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The Channels of English Literature 


The Channels of English Literature 


By Professor W. MACNEILE DIXON, M.A., 
University of Glasgow. 



By Professor F. E. SCHELLING, Litt.D., 
University of Pennsylvania. 


By Professor JAMES SETH, M.A., University 
of Edinburgh. 

By Professor HUGH WALKER, LL.D. f St. 
David's College, Lampeter. 


By Professor GEORGE SAINTSBURY, D.Litt., 
University of Edinburgh. 


By Professor WALDO H. DUNN, Litt.D., The 
College of Wooster, U.S.A. 


By the Very Rev. H. C. BEECHING, D.D., 
D.Litt., Dean of Norwich, and the Rev. 


By Professor RICHARD LODGE, University 
of Edinburgh. 



WALDO H. DUNN, M.A.,Lrrr.D. 







All rights reserved 

F. G. D. 



IN harmony with the common purpose of the other volumes 
which belong to this series, I have made an attempt to 
trace the genesis and evolution of English biography, and 
to furnish those who may care to devote themselves to a 
further study of the subject with sufficient materials in 
the way of references to sources to enable them to make 
at least a beginning toward the accomplishment of their 
desire. I believe I am right in saying that this is the first 
book in the English language devoted to a careful and 
somewhat exhaustive study of the subject. So far as I 
know, it is the first of its kind in any language. Beyond 
brief articles in encyclopaedias and magazines, reviews of 
biographies in periodicals, and a few short treatises, the 
great subject of biography has remained untouched. 

No one can be more conscious than myself of the limita 
tions of the discussion herewith presented. I feel that I 
have made only a beginning in a work that is sure to be 
continued. Biography as an Art; Biography as Litera 
ture; Biography in its Relations to History, Fiction, 
Psychology, and Medical Science; The Use of Letters in 
Biography all these subjects, and more besides, will some 
day be adequately treated. They can be only hinted at, 
or touched upon briefly, in a book of this kind. Yet, again, 
the whole question of a bibliography of biography remains. 
The lists herewith given in the appendix are not meant 
to be complete; they but illustrate certain portions of 
the main text, and are intended to be only suggestive. 
There is great need of an approximately complete biblio- 

vii b 


graphy of the subject which will enumerate and evaluate, 
for the student and the general reader, the really worth 
while works. Some one may perform a real service to 
students by preparing a complete list and a critical dis 
cussion of the short lives and memoirs of the sixteenth and 
seventeenth centuries. The preparation of such biblio 
graphies will be the work of years, but I have no doubt 
that it will some day be accomplished. 

I have met with much encouragement in the prosecution 
of this work, and owe a large debt of gratitude to many. 
The Rev. Thomas Davidson, Nevill Forbes, M.A., Reader 
in Russian at Oxford University, M. Jules Jusserand, 
French Ambassador to the United States of America, and 
Robert S. Rait, M.A., Professor of Scottish History and 
Literature in the University of Glasgow, have kindly 
furnished information, and helped me by way of suggestion 
in forming critical and comparative estimates. Sir Sidney 
Lee has likewise kindly directed me to useful information, 
has allowed me to quote from his writings on biography, 
and has otherwise personally encouraged me. Hugh 
Walker, LL.D., Professor of English in St. David's College, 
Lampeter, was good enough to read a portion of the work 
in manuscript. My friend and colleague, Walter Edwin 
Peck, M.A., Assistant Professor of Rhetoric and English 
Composition in The College of Wooster, has followed the 
whole work with great interest, and has gone over it all 
in proof. Mrs. Anna Robeson Burr, of Philadelphia, whose 
valuable studies in autobiography have rendered my task 
much easier, has not only allowed me to draw freely upon 
her work, but has also furnished specific aid and suggestions. 
Upon none of these, however, should the blame for any of 
the shortcomings of this book be charged. As it stands, 
I alone am responsible for the matter which it contains 
and for the manner in which all has been presented. 


It was my great privilege to be associated during the 
entire period in which I was engaged upon this work with 
W. Macneile Dixon, Litt.D., Professor of English Litera 
ture in the University of Glasgow. The example of his 
high scholarship " lightly borne," together with the self- 
effacing kindness of true culture, has been an inspiration 
to me. He has never failed to have " a heart at leisure 
from itself " sufficiently to permit him to sympathise with 
the most trivial interests of my every-day life. 

To the Court and the Senate of the University of Glasgow 
I owe thanks for privileges accorded me during the two 
years which I spent as a Research Student in that institu 
tion. Within the hospitable gates of that ancient seat of 
learning, and in connexion with the department of English 
Literature, the most of this work was prosecuted. For 
many courtesies, I wish to thank the officials of the Library 
of the University of Glasgow, the Mitchell Library, Glasgow, 
the Bodleian Library, Oxford University, and the Advo 
cates' Library, Edinburgh. To The College of Wooster I 
am deeply indebted for the gift of the time during which 
this study was carried on. 


June 1916. 


DOUBTLESS, few people have ever taken the trouble to 
put the definite query, What is biography? Fewer still, 
perhaps, have ever attempted to formulate an answer to 
what seems so easy a question. When we do seek for 
enlightenment, no host of critics can be summoned to our 
aid as in the case of such other forms of literature as 
poetry and prose fiction; for, as yet, biography has not. 
been made to any great extent the subject of critical 
analysis and discussion. Such criticism as exists is scattered 
chiefly throughout reviews often hastily and perfunctorily 
written or is contained in a few remarks now and then 
made by biographers in the course of their narratives. 
Evidently, it has been generally taken for granted that 
every one knows what biography is. 

It is true that definitions are usually unsatisfactory, 
and that most of us get along very well in using words 
which we should be puzzled to define logically. Yet not 
for this reason should the process of defining be set aside 
as useless, or unnecessary : attempts at definition are help 
ful in clarifying thought-processes, and the results are, at 
least, suggestive, affording points of departure for further 
discussion. We may see how needful is the attempt in the 
present instance by the briefest glance at what have usually 
passed for definitions of biography. Plutarch set before 
himself the task of " writing the lives of famous persons" 
of " comparing the lives of the greatest men with one another" 
No further thought of expressing more definitely what is 
meant by lives seems to have occurred to any one until 
John Dryden, in 1683, introduced the word biography into 


the English language and declared it to be " the history of 
particular men's lives." 

To say that biography is the history of one man's life 
is, at least, to be clear and succinct, but the definition is 
no more than a beginning of the expository process. It 
is easy enough to say that the history of a man's life 
constitutes his biography; it is not so easy to declare 
what should go to make up the history; still less easy to 
say just what is meant by the life of which the history is 
to treat. What do we mean when we speak of the life of a 
man? The expression is common, and every one knows, 
or thinks that he knows, what the term means. It is 
clear that notions have differed widely in the past, just 
as they differ widely in the present. Xenophon believed 
that he was giving to the world the story of Socrates' life 
no less truly than Adamnan thought he was presenting 
before the eyes of his readers " an image of the holy life " 
of Columba. How different was the ideal of Samuel Parr 
from that of James Boswell as to what should present the 
history of the life of Samuel Johnson. Different notions 
in the minds of the writers were certainly responsible for 
the different methods employed by Thomas Carlyle in his 
Life of Sterling, by J. W. Cross in his Life of George Eliot, 
and by Horace Traubel in his With Walt Whitman in 
Camden. Thomas Jefferson Hogg and Edward J. Trelawny 
had the opportunity to do for Shelley what Carlyle did for 
John Sterling: one has simply to taste of their work to 
see how far removed it is from that of Carlyle, to recognise 
that it is scarcely comparable to the Life of Sterling. One 
can hardly doubt, however, that both Hogg and Trelawny 
were as desirous as was Carlyle of presenting the life of a 
man. It is evident that we need to expand the brief defini 
tion somewhat fully that we may have a standard to which 
to refer for purposes of evaluation and comparison. 


Biography is, fundamentally, the offspring of an inherent 
and deep-seated desire in man to perpetuate the memory 
of a life. Go backward as far as we may into the history 
of the subject, the underlying purpose is always the same 
that of memorial. Some one has lived who, by the power 
of his spirit or the greatness of his achievement, has im 
pressed his fellow-men; they, unwilling that his spirit and 
achievement should perish even as his body perished, have 
undertaken to produce some kind of lasting memorial. 
From rude heaps of stones collected to mark graves, such 
memorials have become elaborate monuments or magnifi 
cent temples upon which have been inscribed brief records 
of those in whose honour they were constructed. Or some 
man, impressed by his own spirit and achievement, and 
unwilling that all memory of his journey through life 
should pass away, has taken care to set up for himself a 
lofty obelisk or a towering pyramid to defy the power of 
" Time's fell hand." No stretch of imagination is required 
to see the close connexion between such memorials and 
the written documents, the books, of later ages. As man 
came to understand that the written and the printed word 
endured longer than marble and bronze he forthwith 
became author rather than architect. Whatever the 
medium employed, however, the primary purpose of life- 
record has always been memorial. 

The simple memorial-record soon developed into some 
thing more elaborate. Such early written documents as 
have been preserved enable us to follow the probable 
stages by which life-narrative has developed. Written 
first to perpetuate the memory of one who had for some 
reason excelled his fellows, the memorial seemed to gain 
in value as something of definite achievement was in 
corporated into the record. To primitive men, deeds were 
more impressive than the hidden spirit of which deeds are 


only the outward manifestation; and to them, great deeds 
were of more dignity than the small acts of every-day life. 
The great deeds of great men are, in retrospect, always 
prone to seem greater. The memorial, therefore, developed 
into a narrative, a history usually panegyric in character 
of the outward great events in the life of a great man. 
When a writer happened not to approve of the great man's 
life, it was an easy matter to transform panegyric into 
diatribe. By one road or the other, then, the narrative 
came to serve an ethical purpose. It was easy, also, for the 
man to be almost forgotten in the course of the narrative 
of the events in which he participated: the memorial life- 
record became transformed into history. Again, it became 
a custom to arrange great men into groups, and thus the 
individual was well-nigh lost in the aggregate. The clear 
recognition of the individual, and of the inner spirit the 
soul as the source and mainspring of outward action; in 
short, the conception of life-narrative as portrayal of 
character, came at a comparatively late period in the 
history of mankind. 

In the following pages it is assumed that a true biography 
is the narrative, from birth to death, of one man's life in 
its outward manifestations and inward workings. The aims 
of such a true biography in its simplest form would there 
fore include a record of facts combined with some portrayal 
of character. In proportion as such a work approximates 
the complete fulfilment of these aims in all their legitimate 
ramifications, it approaches the ideal type; that is, an 
ideal biography would exhibit the external life of the sub- 

^ject, give a vivid picture of his character, and unfold the 
growth of his mind. In this volume, the ideal type has been 
adopted as the standard, the test by which all products of 
biography herein mentioned have been judged. Biography 
may be said to develop, therefore, in proportion to the 


degree of accuracy attained in the presentation of mere 
facts; the measure of its detachment from panegyric, or 
other didactic intention; and the extent to which it recog 
nises truth of character portrayal as its first duty. The 
general process of evolution towards such an ideal has been 
slow, and in this order: biographers have first groped 
towards portrayal of character; then, by forsaking the 
ethical or didactic intention, have striven for truth in such 
portrayal; and, last of all, have insisted upon accuracy in 
matters of fact. It need be no cause for wonder that 
insistence upon accuracy of fact has come last. Biography, 
as a kind of literary history, has followed the course of 
history in general, and it is only in modern times that 
strict scientific methods have been applied to historical 

It was long the custom of biographers to write simply 
about a man, to produce a narrative that contained little 
of the subject's own personality. Progress towards the 
ideal type began when writers turned to a use of what 
may be termed instruments of development. These instru 
ments or aids were such as proceeded directly from the 
subject of biography himself, and consist chiefly of two 
kinds: written documents and conversation. Letters, ia 
particular, have come to be recognised as among the most 
effective aids letters which are not mere impersonal 
documents, but letters redolent of personality, letters 
which reveal the inner spirit, such as those which Sprat 
refused to employ in his Life of Cowley, and which Mason 
wisely admitted into the Life of Gray. It would indeed 
be interesting to consider fully the development of letters 
as a vehicle of self-expression, to set forth some compara 
tive estimate of the extent to which the biographers of 
the world have used them as aids to biography; but the 
task is beyond the scope of this work. The use of mere 


impersonal letters is not, of course, peculiar to English 
biography; in fact, the custom was adopted from outside 
Britain. Yet, undoubtedly, the clear recognition of the 
value of what may be called the intimate letter as a means 
of character portrayal in biography is due to English 
writers ; and a somewhat exhaustive, though not complete, 
comparison reveals that the English have used letters for 
such a purpose in greater numbers and to better advantage 
than have the biographers of any other nation. 

We have now set forth what should constitute the ideal 
biography. It is clear that such a work would be pure 
biography ; that is, in unfolding the life-narrative in 
exhibiting the external life, in giving a vivid picture of 
character, and in delineating growth of mind it would 
so subordinate all else such as the exposition of events, 
references to other persons, and critical discussions of work 
accomplished by the subject as to cause no distraction 
whatever to the mind of the reader. All the attention 
would be focused upon the subject: for the purposes of 
such a work, the subject would stand, for the time being, 
in the centre of things; other persons, all events, all work 
accomplished, would be explicable and would need explana 
tion only in so far as they were immediately connected 
with him. The Rev. Edward Edwards, in writing his Life 
of Raleigh, had in mind the production of pure biography. 
When writers succeed in producing such pure life-narrative, 
history proper will be definitely and finally separated from 
biography. So difficult are the problems involved, however, 
that pure biography is likely always to remain only an ideal 
towards which to strive ; but the ideal should never be lost 
sight of. 

Autobiography differs from biography in that it is a 
life-narrative written by the subject himself, and cannot 
therefore attain the organic and artistic completeness which 


we have come to associate with a record written by another. 
It must always come to a close before the life of the writer. 
Nevertheless, the true autobiography is, in other respects, 
similar to the true biography, and must exhibit like aims. 
Similarly, also, it approaches the ideal as it approximates 
the qualities already enumerated in the discussion of the 
ideal biography. Of recent years notably since the begin 
ning of the nineteenth century autobiography has come 
to be regarded as a distinct literary form with charac 
teristics and requirements peculiar to itself. It is indeed 
closely related to what in general we call biography, yet 
it is definitely separated from it. Its independence within 
its own realm is secure and permanent. 

To make the intent of certain statements in this volume 
clear beyond question, and to avoid misapprehension on 
the part of the reader, a few preliminary remarks may not 
be out of place. Before the time of Izaak Walton, biography 
in Britain may justly be spoken of as incidental; that 
is, there were none who may be termed professional 
biographers. Either the authors turned from their usual 
employments to write a single memorial composition, or, 
in treating of historical events, they incidentally produced 
something that only approximated biography. It ic true 
that Walton, in the first place, began his work almost by 
accident, and largely by way of memorial; he soon, how 
ever, became a biographer by deliberate intention. Hence 
we are justified in thinking of him as the first deliberate 
biographer in English, as the first to pass from the pro 
duction of a single work to the project of completing a 
series of individual lives. In this sense, he may be said to 
stand alone to be a pioneer. There were, it must be 
admitted, a few biographers whose work plainly fore- 


shadows that of Walton, just as there were voyagers and 
explorers before Columbus. In the department of eccle 
siastical biography, especially, one thinks of Lawrence 
Humphrey's Life and Death of John Jewell, Bishop of 
Salisbury, published in 1573; of Sir George Paule's truly 
pleasing Life of John Whitgift, Archbishop of Canterbury, 
1612; and of Bishop George Carleton's Life of Bernard 
Gilpin, 1628. Of these biographers, both Humphrey and 
Carleton wrote in Latin; Paule, however, may stand as 
clearly a forerunner of the promise later fulfilled in Walton: 
the Life of Whitgift is worthy of mention along with any 
of the Walton biographies. The separate works of the 
men just enumerated are scarcely comparable, however, 
to the biographical labours of the author of The Compleat 
Angler. Walton marks not only the distinction between 
incidental and deliberate biography, but also the beginning 
of true artistic biography deliberately undertaken. He 
gathered into himself such scattered impulses as were 
exhibited by Roper, Cavendish, Humphrey, Paule, Carleton,, 
andothers,and gave them definitepurpose and artistic expres 
sion. His work was both a culmination and an innovation. 
There seems, likewise, no reason to doubt that the 
influence of Roper and Cavendish upon the general develop 
ment of biography was exceedingly small until well towards 
the nineteenth century. Where it can be traced before 
that time it appears principally as a source of history, or 
as a literary influence in connexion with Storer and 
Shakespeare. It would be going too far to say that their 
work had no direct influence upon the course of true 
biography before the nineteenth century; it seems clear, 
however, that the influence is almost negligible. Could 
these works only have been printed earlier and circulated 
extensively, the development of intimate, artistic biography 
might have been greatly accelerated. 


In treating so large a subject in a space so brief, it can 
scarcely be hoped that a true sense of proportion has, in 
every case, been exhibited. It has been necessary to leave 
unmentioned, as not coming within the direct scope of 
this work, many biographies which of themselves are 
interesting and important. Likewise, it has not been 
possible to do complete justice to any single biography. 
In many instances, particular works could have much 
more said for them; are worthy, in fact, of detailed treat 
ment. Thus, Adamnan's Life of St. Columba does more 
than abound in the miraculous and merely summarise 
Columba's character. As the reader may find out for 
himself, it reveals even if indirectly many subtile traits 
in the character of the first Abbot of lona. Other topics 
treated in the course of the book may seem to be over 
emphasised; in particular, the space devoted to verse lives 
and to the discussion of " Characters " may appear out of 
proportion. I have run the risk of over-emphasis in these 
directions. To be sure, verse lives of saints are well-nigh 
negligible in treating solely of the evolution of biography, 
but not in writing a history of the form: we need to 
remember the place which they filled; we need to bear in 
mind that for centuries while the development of prose 
biography remained in abeyance they were the chief 
manifestation of the biographical spirit, and furnished the 
principal source of general reading. The average reader 
has a right to ask for somewhat detailed information in 
regard to these saints' lives, as well as to be shown why 
they have little connexion with the subsequent develop 
ment of biography. Ike Mirror for Magistrates, as the 
continuation, the legitimate successor of saints* lives, 
cannot, for the same reason, be passed over. It is full of 
biographical details, and no doubt is a connecting link 
between the prose work of Cavendish and the one great 


verse life, Storer's Wolsey. The " Characters " are the 
children of the biographical spirit. That critics have found 
it necessary to point out that they are not important 
factors in the development of biography is perhaps suffi 
cient reason for making it clear in these pages just what 
relation they bear to the subject in hand. Other forms of 
literature, in particular the drama, are also related to 
biography in so far as they mark the growing interest in 
human life, in individuals. These other forms, however, 
have not been thought of as so closely related to biography 
as the " Characters " have been. 

One topic I have touched briefly the influence of 
Plutarch and the other classical biographers. I feel that 
for the purposes of this volume such brevity is not a 
mistake. When we say that Plutarch, as the " prince of 
ancient biographers," was at once an example and a 
stimulus to English biographers, that he made statements 
so suggestive as to need only amplification and illustration, 
we have said all, perhaps, that is necessary. Without 
doubt, the influence of classical biography upon English 
has been great in many subtile ways : to trace these hidden 
and often shadowy influences is no part of the purpose of 
this book. 

The chapter divisions herein followed have made neces 
sary a certain amount of repetition, not enough, it is hoped, 
to be wearisome. Whether biography preceded auto 
biography, or v ice versa, is an unsettled point. It is true, 
at any rate, that autobiography did not assume an im 
portant place in English until the latter part of the 
eighteenth century, and in this fact we find justification 
for deferring the treatment of autobiography until Chapter 
VI. With this much clearing of the way, we may proceed 
to the actual discussion of the subject in hand. 




PERIOD (690-1066 A.D.) ..... i 


1500) .19 



(1500-1700) ....... 46 








XII. IN CONCLUSION ....... 278 


INDEX 311 




PERIOD (690-1066 A.D.) 

BIOGRAPHY was for long, and to a certain extent yet is, 
the handmaiden of both history and literature. For cen 
turies it was recognised simply as a department of history, 
and, as life-history, was never considered a distinct species 
of composition governed by laws of its own. Later, when 
there arose an interest in writers as differentiated from 
their writings, biography was called to the aid of literature. 
Still later not certainly and surely until the nineteenth 
century it assumed its rightful place as a dignified de 
partment of English literature. Thus it is that biography 
has a two-fold claim to rank in the realm of letters. As the 
handmaiden of literature for there can be no considera 
tion of the products of authorship as apart from the 
authors it must ever claim a share in literary triumphs; 
and, as a unified, coherent, artistic creation, it has assumed, 
and is destined in a far greater degree to assume, a high 
rank in the annals of literature. It will be the purpose of 
this volume to trace the slow, retarded evolution of bio 
graphy in the British Islands, from its earliest manifesta 
tions in a foreign tongue to the rich and full if not always 
or often excellent culmination in the now widely diffused 
English language. 

The beginnings of biography in the British Isles are 



bound up with the history of the Christian Church. It is 
not strange that this should be the case; for, during a 
period of many centuries, the Church was the focal point of 
history, from which emanated most of the statesmanship 
and scholarship of the times. These beginnings they can 
be called little more than impulses to biography take us 
back to a primitive period in the mind-development of the 
inhabitants of Britain; to an age of wonder and credulity; 
to an age when the Church, and things pertaining to the 
Church, were uppermost in the minds of the educated. It 
was an age over which the only appreciable literary influ 
ence was that of the Scriptures and Commentaries thereon. 
For such germs of biography as the period affords we must 
go for the most part to the narratives of the lives and 
miracles of saints, or to the works of the chroniclers and 
historians. Sir Thomas Duffus Hardy in the first two parts 
(vol. i.) of the Descriptive Catalogue of Materials relating to 
the History of Great Britain and Ireland gives a list of 1 277 
works, most of which treat of lives and miracles of saints. 1 
Not until 893, when Asser wrote the Life of King Alfred, do 
we have the life record of a layman. 

These early records were written in Latin, and, for this 
reason, have an historical rather than a direct, linguistic 
relation to the later development of English biography. 
Latin, however, long continued to be the language of 
English writers; hence, a consideration of the subject pro 
perly begins with this period. From the great mass of 
material concerning much of which there is confusion 2 as 

1 " In studying the Lives of the Saints which have come to us 
from very early ages in the Church down to quite modern times, 
we must remember that for centuries they filled a place in literature 
which is now filled quite otherwise. They were the novels of all 
ranks of society." Alfred Plummer, The Churches in Britain Before 
A.D. 1000, vol. i. p. 73. 

The following excerpts from Sir T. D. Hardy, Descriptive 
Catalogue, vol. i. part i., are important: " The materials for our 


to date and authenticity it is necessary, for our purpose, 
to select only a few. While these few belong chiefly to the 
domain of history, it is yet necessary at least to name 
several of the most important out-croppings of the bio 
graphical impulse, to mention their chief characteristics, 
and to set forth such development as they evidence; as 
well as to say something of their historical value to bio 
graphers of a later period. 

First in point of time comes Adamnan's Life of St. 
Columba, written somewhere between 690 and 700 A.D. 
Adamnan, an Irish saint and historian, was in 697 elected 
ninth abbot of lona, and thus became the biographer of the 
first abbot, Columba. Three characteristics at once attract 
the attention of a reader of this memoir: the brevity of the 
directly biographical portion; the great preponderance of 
the miraculous element; and the insistence upon the moral 
of a good life. The work is not at all chiefly biographical, 
nor is it largely historical; it is hagiology. The part of it 
which is biographical is reduced to the smallest compass, 
yet it is in this part that we recognise Columba, the man; 
it is in this part that we recognise the germ of biography 
if not in the English language, at least in the British Isles. 

history during the first five centuries (which may properly be called 
the British period) must be sought for. and are to be found only, in 
the works of the classical and Byzantine writers, in coins and 
monumental inscriptions, in the record of oral traditions, in the 
writings of Gildas and Nennius, and in the lives of the saints. . . . 
[The age] was fruitful in biography. Libraries abound with memoirs 
or lives of eminent scholars or ecclesiastics of the period, many of 
them written by the contemporaries of the persons celebrated, and 
valuable as containing facts and incidents recorded on personal 
knowledge, or anecdotes obtained from oral testimony" (p. xii). 
" If possible, this source of modern history is beset with more 
difficulty and is more perplexing to the critic than all the confusions 
and interpolations which arrest his progress in dealing with the 
Chronicles " (p. xvii). " So lives of saints come down to us, like all 
mediaeval works, the result of many hands the complex and 
intricate growth of different times, and wrought together for different 
purposes" (p. xx). 


" I shall in the first place," says Adamnan, " as briefly as 
I can, give a general summary, and place before my reader's 
eyes an image of his holy life." Here is the portion: 

" St. Columba, then, was born of noble parents ; his father was 
Fedilmith, son of Fergus, and his mother was Aethne, whose father 
can be called in Latin Filius Navis, but in the Scotic tongue MacNave. 
In the second year after the battle of Culedbrina, and in the forty- 
second of his age, St. Columba, resolving to seek a foreign country 
for the love of Christ, sailed from Scotia x to Britain. From his 
boyhood he had been brought up in Christian training in the study 
of wisdom, and by the grace of God had so preserved the integrity 
of his body, and the purity of his soul, that though dwelling on 
earth he appeared to live like the saints in heaven. For he was 
angelic in appearance, graceful in speech, holy in work, with talents 
of the highest order, and consummate prudence; he lived a soldier 
of Christ during thirty-four years in an island. He never could spend 
the space of even one hour without study, or prayer, or writing, or 
some other holy occupation. So incessantly was he engaged night 
and day in the unwearied exercise of fasting and watching, that the 
burden of each of these austerities would seem beyond the power of 
all human endurance. And still in all these he was beloved by all, 
for a holy joy ever beaming on his face revealed the joy and gladness 
with which the Holy Spirit filled his inmost soul." * 

In the closing paragraph of the memoir the moral of a 
good life is drawn the purpose, perhaps, for which 
Adamnan wrote : 

" After reading these three books, let the diligent reader observe 
of what and how great merit, of what and how high honour in the 
sight of God our holy and venerable abbot must have been deemed 
worthy . . . ; and how, even after the departure of his most kindly 
soul from the tabernacle of the body, until the present day, the place 
where his sacred bones repose . . . doth not cease to be frequently 
visited by the holy angels, and illumined by the same heavenly 
brightness. . . . This great and honourable celebrity [the spread 
of his fame even to Rome, ' the head of all cities '], amongst other 
marks of divine favour, is known to have been conferred on this 

1 Ireland. 

Translation of William Reeves, Edition Life of St. Columba 
(Historians of Scotland, vol. vi.), p. 3. 


same saint by God, Who loveth those that love Him, and raiseth 
them to immense honour by glorifying more and more those that 
magnify and truly praise Him, Who is blessed for evermore." l 

Adamnan's Life of St. Columba has been abundantly 
praised. It has been pronounced " the most complete piece 
of such biography that all Europe can boast of, not only 
at so early a period, but even through the whole middle 
ages." Although it was not intended for history, professing 
to be simply the record of an individual, all historians, 
from an early period to the present, have agreed in recog 
nising it as " the most authentic voucher now remaining 
of several other important particulars of the sacred and 
civil history of the Scots and Picts." It is particularly 
valuable in connexion with the history of the Irish Church, 
of which Dr. William Reeves pronounces it " an inestimable 
literary relic . . . perhaps, with all its defects, the most 
valuable monument of that ancient institution which has 
escaped the ravages of time." 2 

Worthy of mention after the work of Adamnan is the 
ancient Life of St. Patrick, preserved in the Book of 
Armagh. This memoir, ascribed to Muirchu Maccu Mac- 
theni, is dedicated to Aedh, or Aidus, anchorite and Bishop 
of Sletty in the seventh century (d. 698), and is thus 

translation of William Reeves, Edition Life of St. Columba 
(Historians of Scotland, vol. vi.), p. 101. 

Edition of Life of St. Columba (Historians of Scotland, vol. vi.), 
to which the reader is referred for full information in regard to this 
important work. This edition contains both the Latin text and an 
English translation. These words, too, are worth noting here: " In 
these lives or acts lies the chief, oftentimes the sole authority for 
all the knowledge we possess, or are ever likely to possess, of an age 
and a class of men that form an important link in the chain that 
connects us with past times; it is a mine, not always the richest, 
but often the only one, to which the historian of a long interval in 
the history of this people must look for material. When he has 
exhausted it, he has exhausted all." Hardy, Descriptive Catalogue, 
vol. i. part i. p. xviii. Wentworth Huyshe has made an excellent 
translation of the Life of Columba for Routl edge's " New Universal 


practically as old as the Life of St. Columba. Maccu Mac- 
theni was one of the earliest authors to collect material in 
regard to St. Patrick, and for this reason his work is 
accounted the most reliable of the existing biographies of 
the Saint. The influence of the introductory verses of the 
Gospel of St. Luke is clearly evident in the dedicatory 

" Forasmuch as many, my lord Aldus, have taken in hand to set 
forth in order a narration, namely this, according to what their 
fathers, and they who from the beginning were ministers of the 
Word, have delivered unto them; but by reason of the very great 
difficulty of the narrative and the diverse opinions and numerous 
doubts of very many persons, have never arrived at any one certain 
track of history; therefore (if I be not mistaken, according to this 
proverb of our countrymen, Like boys brought down into the amphi 
theatre) I have brought down the boyish row-boat of my poor 
capacity into this dangerous and deep ocean of sacred narrative, 
with wildly swelling mounds of billows, lying in unknown seas 
between most dangerous whirlpools an ocean never attempted 
or occupied by any barks, save only that of my father Cogitosus. 
But lest I should seem to make a small matter great, with little 
skill, from uncertain authors, with frail memory, with obliterated 
meaning and barbarous language, but with a most pious intention, 
obeying the command of thy belovedness, and sanctity, and autho 
rity, I will now attempt, out of many acts of Saint Patrick, to 
explain these, gathered here and there with difficulty." l 

The first biography in England of which we know the 
writer, " the earliest extant historical work compiled by 
an Anglo-Saxon author," is the Life of Wilfrid, by Eddius 
Stephanus, which dates from about 709. Eddius, a choir 
master in Kent, was summoned by Wilfrid, Bishop of 
York, to assist in the organisation of church services in 
Northumbria. Inasmuch as Eddius spent forty years in 

1 Translation of James Henthorn Todd, St. Patrick Apostle oj 
Ireland, p. 402. The Rev. Dr. John Gwynn has recently edited The 
Book of Armagh, Hodges, Figgis & Co., Ltd., Dublin. There is 
another copy of Maccu Mactheni's work preserved in a manuscript 
at Brussels, MS. 64, Royal Library. 


the service of Wilfrid, and had at his command the personal 
knowledge of Bishop Acca and Abbot Tathbert, to the 
latter of whom Wilfrid had at one time told in full the story 
of his life, he was well qualified to undertake the task of 
biographer. His method is much more logical than that of 
Adamnan. He begins with the birth of Wilfrid, proceeds in 
chronological order to his death, and continues with details 
of miracles wrought by means of Wilfrid's silken robe, and 
of signs seen in the sky to show that Wilfrid was made 
equal with St. Peter and St. Andrew. 

A distinct advance over the work of Adamnan is the use 
of letters and documents connected with the ecclesiastical 
controversies in which Wilfrid had a part. These letters and 
documents known to us only through this biography are 
used, it must be observed, not so much to throw light on 
the personality of the individual as to elucidate the events 
in which Wilfrid took part. The author had no work to 
which to refer, save an anonymous Life of St. Cutbbert, 
which had been written and kept at Lindisfarne. It must 
be said, though, that Eddius made good use of this model ; 
for he not only borrowed the prologue, " merely altering 
the names," but "in another instance . . . gives to his 
patron, after he becomes Bishop, the character which had 
been already ascribed with far more justice to Cuthbert 
himself." l Canon Raine points out, however, that Eddius* 
work precedes that of the Venerable Bede and that the 
events given towards the end of the fifth book of the 
Ecclesiastical History (cap. xix.) are a summary of 
Eddius' Life. The Life of Wilfrid, as biography, excels 
that of Columba, and Eddius deserves to be regarded as 
" one of the leaders in the very front rank of the vanguard 
of English scholars." 

The work of the Venerable Bede next claims our attention. 

1 James Raine, Historians of York (Rolls Series), vol. i. p. xxxii. 


Although known chiefly as an historian, Bede has a place 
among the biographical writers of this period by reason 
of his Life of St. Cuthbert and Lives of the Abbots of the 
Monasteries of Wearmouih and Jarrow. It is the prose Life 
of St. Cuthbert) written about 721, in which we are now 
particularly interested. Once, Bede informs us, he had 
written Cuthbert's life in Latin verse, a habit of which there 
are numerous examples scattered throughout this period. 
In the prose Life, Bede has followed the chronological order, 
proceeding from Cuthbert's youth to his death, and to the 
miracles performed by his relics. So far as the miraculous 
element is concerned, the narrative harks back to that of 
Adamnan; of the forty-six chapters, thirty-nine are con 
cerned with miraculous events. It may, for this reason, 
seem that no advancement whatever had been made in 
regard to the use of miraculous details since Adamnan 
wrote of Columba. It is very evident, however, to the care 
ful reader that whatever may have been the attitude of 
those who examined Bede's work with such scrupulous 
care l and passed all these stories without question, in the 
mind of Bede himself there was a doubt too strong to be 
entirely concealed. 

In remarking on the manner in which Cuthbert was 
cured of a painful swelling in his knee by following the 
advice of an angel which appeared to him, Bede says: 
" And if it should seem incredible to any one, that an angel 
should appear on horseback, let him read the history of 
the Maccabees, in which it is related that angels came on 
horseback to the defence of Judas Maccabeus and the 
temple of God." And again, in relating how two crows 
sought by prayers and gifts to appease Cuthbert for an 
injury they had done to him, Bede remarks, " Nor let it 

1 As explained in the dedication of the Life of St. Cuthbert and in 
the preface to the Ecclesiastical History. 


seem absurd to any one to derive a lesson of virtue from 
birds, since Solomon saith, * Go to the ant, O sluggard, and 
consider her ways and learn wisdom.' " The Rev. Stopford 
A. Brooke calls our attention to the fact that when Bede 
" is speaking in his own person, he has no knowledge of the 
miraculous. When he has told the tale of Cuthbert quench 
ing in one day a supernatural as well as a natural fire, he 
adds, * But I, and those who are like me conscious of our 
own weakness, can do nothing in that way against material 
fire.' Again, when he speaks of the beasts and birds obey 
ing Cuthbert * We, for the most part,' he says, * have lost 
our dominion over the creation, for we neglect to obey the 
Lord.' The same careful note steals sometimes into the 
Ecclesiastical History. It represents the struggle, it may be 
an altogether unconscious struggle, of the temper of the 
scholar who demands accuracy with the temper of the 
pious monk to whom the miraculous was so dear and so 
useful." * 

We see, too, in this work a yet more distinct emphasis 
upon the moral purpose; the Life is entirely a paean of 
praise. Bede " is fond of dwelling upon the efficacious 
preaching of a holy life " ; the moral purpose is uppermost in 
his mind. Indeed, Bede has set down in the Ecclesiastical 
History (sect, i) his opinion in regard to relating " good 
things of good men " and " evil things of wicked persons " : 
" For when history relates good things of good men, the 
attentive hearer is excited to imitate that which is good; 
or when it mentions evil things of wicked persons, neverthe 
less the religious and pious hearer or reader, by shunning 
that which is hurtful and perverse, is the more earnestly 
excited to perform those things which he knows to be good, 
and worthy of God." This practice may be of value for the 
purposes of a moralist; it is scarcely the principle for a 
1 History of Early English Literature, vol. ii. p. 160. 


biographer to follow who wishes to set forth a human being. 
The practice of relating only good things of good men was 
carried to such an extreme in the progress of English 
biography as to become a vice. 

We have said that thirty-nine out of the forty-sir 
chapters are concerned with the miraculous. From the 
remaining chapters we get glimpses of the man Cuthbert 
himself, and, from the biographical point of view, these are 
worth all the rest. From such passages as these we see what 
Bede might have done in the way of biography had he not 
been prevented by the spirit of the age in which he lived: 

" So great moreover was Cuthbert's skill in teaching, so vast was 
his power of loving persuasion, so striking was the light of his 
angelic countenance, that no one in his presence dared to conceal 
from him the hidden secrets of his heart, but all declared openly in 
confession what each had done amiss, thinking in truth that none of 
his misdeeds were concealed from him." 

M He was also wont to seek out and preach in those remote villages, 
which were situated far from the world in wild mountain places and 
fearful to behold, which as well by their poverty and distance up 
the country prevented intercourse between them and such as could 
instruct their inhabitants. Abandoning himself willingly to this 
pious work, Cuthbert cultivated these remote districts and people 
with so much zeal and learning, that he often did not return to his 
monastery for an entire week, sometimes for two or three, yea occa 
sionally for even a full month; remaining all the time in the moun 
tains, and calling back to heavenly concerns these rustic people, by 
the word of his preaching as well as by his example of virtue." 1 

" Now there were in the monastery certain monks who chose 
rather to follow their ancient custom than to obey the new rule. 
These, nevertheless, he overcame by the modest power of his 
patience, and by daily practice he brought them by little and little 
to a better disposition. As he frequently discoursed in the assembly 
of the brethren about the rule, when he might well have been 
wearied out with the sharp remarks of those that spoke against it, 
he would suddenly rise up, and dismissing the assembly with a 

1 The two foregoing paragraphs are from chapter ix. 


placid mind and countenance, depart. But nevertheless, on the 
following day, as if he had suffered no opposition the day before, 
he repeated the same admonitions to the same audience, until by 
degrees he brought them round, as we have said, to what he wished. 
For he was a man specially endowed with the grace of patience, and 
most invincible in stoutly enduring all opposition that might occur, 
whether to mind or body. At the same time he bore a cheerful 
countenance amid every distress that might happen, so that it 
was clearly understood that he despised outward tribulations by 
the inward consolations of the Holy Spirit." 

" His raiment was very ordinary; and he used such moderation 
in this respect that he was not remarkable either for neatness or 
slovenliness." l 

Such passages as these, together with the account of Cuth- 
bert's illness and death, stand out in welcome relief from 
the mass of the miraculous. 

After Bede, biography in England was continued by 
Felix, hermit of Crowland, in his Life of St. Guthlac, written 
between 747 and 749. The narrative is of little intrinsic 
worth, not differing materially from other lives of saints. 
It is worthy of mention here because of its connexion with 
English literature. Some time in the tenth or eleventh 
century it was translated into Old English a and no doubt 
furnished the material for the second part of the St. Guthlac 
poem attributed to Cynewulf, and thus enables us to estab 
lish the only date we have in the life of that mysterious 

The first biography of an English layman is the Life of 
Alfred the Great, the work of Asser, Bishop of St. David's. 

1 These two paragraphs from chapter xvi. The translation is that 
of the Rev. Joseph Stevenson in The Church Historians of England, 
vol. i. part ii. 

Wanley ascribed the Old English prose translation of the Vita 
Guthlaci (MS. Cptt. Vesp. D. xxi.) to Aelfric. C. W. Goodwin, who 
published an edition in 1848, says: " The Life of St. Guthlac, hermit 
of Crowland, was originally written in Latin, by one Felix, of whom 
nothing is with certainty known. . . . When and by whom the 
translation was made is unknown: the style is not that of Aelfric, 
to whom it has been groundlessly ascribed." 


Asser became acquainted with Alfred about 884 and 
enjoyed an intimate friendship with the King until 893, in 
which year the Life was written. There is nothing to show 
that Asser ever continued the narrative beyond the year 
893, and since Alfred survived until 901, Asser's work has 
the interest of contemporaneous composition. Asser had a 
great man as subject, yet he fails markedly as a biographer, 
even when we take into consideration the primitive stage 
of life-writing. He " seems never to have realised to himself 
the honour to which he had attained in being selected to 
become the channel through which posterity should be 
made acquainted with the outer and inner life of ' England's 
darling.' " x The author seems to have had in mind no 
definite plan; the work is lacking entirely in artistic skill. 
The whole is a remarkable conglomeration of history and 
biography, a weaving together in loose fashion of the Saxon 
Chronicle and the results of Asser's own acquaintance and 

One cannot refrain from smiling at many of Asser's 
whimsical methods. Thus, he naively traces Alfred's 
genealogy back to Adam; frequently drags in utterly 
irrelevant material; and otherwise rambles on knowingly 
and, to all intents, wilfully. His style is rhetorical and 
verbose; he " gives one the impression that the author 
thought more of the display of his powers of composition 
and command of recondite words than of the matter con 
veyed by them. Sometimes, it is true, he shows a tendency 
to excessive explanation, but more often his meaning is 
obscured by a cloud of verbiage." 2 He is perhaps the most 
hopeless rambler of the period : he seems to regard Alfred as 
a thread on which to string whatever stories came to his 
fancy. He is aware of the fact, too, as these passages prove: 

1 Stevenson, The Church Historians of England, vol. ii. part ii. 
p. xiii. 

3 W. H. Stevenson, Asser, p. Ixxxix. 


" And now, to use nautical language, I will no longer commit my 
vessel to the winds and waves, and, putting out to sea, steer a 
roundabout course through the massacres of war and the enumera 
tion of years, but must return to the object which first stirred me 
up to this undertaking. I must now treat, as far as I have obtained 
information, of the infancy and boyhood of my venerated master, 
Alfred, King of the Anglo-Saxons, as briefly and as fully as I 
possibly can." 

It is not long until he has once more left the subject in 
hand, to which he thus returns : 

" With the view of returning to the point from which I digressed, 
and that I may not be compelled by long navigation to miss the 
port of my wished-for repose, I will hasten to give some account, as 
far as my knowledge will allow, of the life and manners, of the just 
conversation, and of the greater part of the exploits, of Alfred, my 
Lord, the King of the Anglo-Saxons." l 

With all its defects, the work is of great value. It throws 
much light on a dark period of English history, a period 
known to us only by the Saxon Chronicle and a " few 
charters preserved in much later chartularies, of a more or 
less suspicious nature." Mr. W. H. Stevenson is of the 
opinion that " probably no work of similar extent has con 
tributed so much to English history. At an early period 
it was transcribed almost entirely into the continuous 
chronicles of Florence of Worcester and Simeon of Durham, 
and by their means it descended to Royer of Howden and 
the St. Alban's school of writers, whose influence upon 
mediaeval history-writing in England was all-pervading." 2 
As biography, it stands in strong contrast to the lives of 
the saints, overburdened as they are with stories of the 
miraculous. It shows too, especially in the second portion 
drawn chiefly from Asser's personal knowledge, a nearer 
approach to modern biography than anything else of the 
period: it shows an appreciation of the personal anecdote 

1 Translation of Stevenson, The Church Historians of England, 
vol. ii. part ii. 
* Asser, p. xi. 


that is promising, and a willingness to consider a man from 
the human point of view that is wholesome. One feels after 
reading the entire narrative that one has been in the pre 
sence of a human being. It is worthy of notice, also, that 
the work is not purposely or mainly a panegyric. 1 

In the Memorials of St. Dunstan, edited by William 
Stubbs, there are preserved six lives of Dunstan, by different 
writers, covering the period from about 1000 to 1464. One 
of the lives was written within sixteen years, another 
within twenty-three years of Dunstan's death. The two 
are dedicated to his successors, personal friends who knew 
him either in the capacity of fellow scholars or of disciples. 
Dunstan was an Anglo-Saxon bishop of the highest type, 
the close friend and the chief minister of Edgar, " around 
whose name the last glories of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms 
circle." It is not because the Memorials of St. Dunstan 
exhibit any marked development in the history of the 
biography of the period that we include a notice of them 
here. It is rather because, " for the history of England in 
the latter half of the tenth century we have, except the 
very meagre notices of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, no 
contemporary materials, unless we admit the lives of the 
Saints of the Benedictine revival. Florence of Worcester, 
writing within fifty years of the Conquest, could find 
nothing to add to the details of the Chronicle for this period, 
except the notices of Dunstan drawn directly from the 
biographies of the saint. The light which they shed is not 
great, but it is precious in proportion to its scantiness." 2 

We close the consideration of this period with the 

1 " The purpose of the biography of a great man is in part that 
of inciting others to follow his example. But in the present work 
there is no reason to consider that the didactic character is other 
than incidental, or that it was written with any other purpose than 
that of celebrating the doings and recording the life of a truly great 
man." Stevenson, Asser, cviii-cix. 

William Stubbs, Memorials of St. Dunstan (Rolls Series), p. ix. 


earliest of the various lives of the Venerable Bede, a work 
by an unknown writer produced some time before 1104. 
The narrative adds nothing to our stock of information 
about Bede; it is but a repetition and amplification in high- 
flown language 1 of Bede's autobiographical sketch at the 
close of the Ecclesiastical History. It seems worth while, 
however, to give it a place here, as in a way marking the 
end of this period; for, while it, too, is panegyric, it shows 
an entire absence of the miraculous. The writer treats of 
Bede as a holy man, to be sure, but not as a man who 
wrought miracles at every turn. Of course, narratives of the 
miraculous in the lives of holy men continued to be written 
long after this date: that there are none mentioned in the 
life of so great a man as Bede, written thus early, is signifi 
cant. 2 An epoch all but closes with this narrative. 

It is not difficult to find the influences which inspired 
and shaped the writings of these earliest biographers. 
Inasmuch as all of them were churchmen, it is in the litera 
ture of the Church that they found their models. The works 
abound in references to the Scriptures and the Church 
Fathers. Bede's Life of St. Cuthbert reminds one of the 
Gospel narratives. The resemblance of the prologue of the 
Life of St. Patrick by Muirchu Maccu Mactheni to that of 
St. Luke's Gospel has already been pointed out. Asser 
seems to have gone further afield ; W. H. Stevenson shows 

1 This may be given as an example of the style: " And thus this 
eminent wise bee of the Church, thirsting for that sweetness that is 
grateful to God, gathered flowers all over the field that the Lord 
had blessed, with which, making honey, as it were, by the alchemy 
of wisdom, he indited compositions that are sweeter than honey 
and the honeycomb." 

1 " Alcuin gives an account of a miracle wrought by Bede's 
relics. De Sanctis Ebor. vv. 1316-7. With this exception what 
Fuller says of him is true : ' Saxon Saints who had not the tenth 
part of his sanctity, nor hundredth part of his learning, are said to 
have wrought miracles ad lectoris nauseam ; not one single miracle 
is reported to have been done by Bede.' " C. Plummer, Baedae 
Opera Historica, Tomus i. p. Ixxix, note. 


that he was familiar with Einhard's Life of Charles the 
Great, 1 and suggests that he may also have taken as models 
Thegan's Life of Ludzvig the Pious and a Life of Ludwig by 
an unknown author described as the " Astronomer." For 
the most part, however, the work of the Latin period began 
and proceeded without appreciable foreign influence other 
than what came through ecclesiastical channels. Plutarch's 
Lives were unknown to the men of this period in Britain : 
the earliest Latin version was printed only in 1470; the 
first edition of the original text was not published until 1517. 
After one has completed an examination of the literature 
of this period, one is first of all impressed with the scant 
attention given to man as man; such sketches as are given 
are rather in the way of outward events; the inner life is 
passed over as of little importance; the individual is sub 
ordinated to institutions. 2 It is not to be wondered at that 
so little is said of the man and that so much is recorded of 
the work and of the Church; men were supposed to sink 
their identity into that of the institution. The Church and 
its work were the important matters; man was only an 
instrument; his life was not to be held dear. It is worth 
while, also, to bear in mind the circle for which these 
memorials were written: they were addressed to church 
men to whom other churchmen were daily companions ; to 
men who were overcome by the brightness of God's glory 

1 ". . . there is evidence that he was acquainted with the greatest 
of the Frankish biographies, the Life of Charles the Great by Em- 
hard. In c. 73 he adapts to his own purpose the language of the 
preface of this famous work, and in the following chapters we can 
perceive some indications that the order of his biographical matter 
has been influenced by that in Einhard." Mr. Stevenson goes on to 
say that Asser is much more accurate in historical details than is 
Einhard. He calls Einhard's Life " a medley of phrases culled from 
Suetonius " ; and says that " it abounds with chronological errors." 
Asser, Introduction, sect. 51. 

2 Thus Doctor Reeves laments that Adamnan did not write the 
history of his Church rather than the Life of St. Columba. Life of 
St. Columba, Preface, p. xx. 


and the light from the New Jerusalem. The recognition of 
the individual which was later to make English biography 
a thing of living and personal literary importance came far 

Writing in 1853, the Rev. Joseph Stevenson, in regretting 
the fact that no contemporary life of the Venerable Bede 
has reached us, said : " This deficiency in our early litera 
ture did not arise from any ignorance on the part of his 
contemporaries respecting the merits of Bede, or from any 
unwillingness to acknowledge them with due respect and 
reverence. . . . We must therefore look elsewhere for the 
reasons for this apparent neglect ; nor will it be difficult to 
find them. They arise from the character of the historian's 
life, which passed without the occurrence of any of those 
incidents which afford the chief scope for the exercise of the 
biographer's occupation. Had a life of Bede been written 
by a contemporary, it would almost necessarily have been 
scanty, even to meagreness; and although we might have 
possessed definite information upon many points which are 
at present obscure, yet in all probability we should not 
have been gainers to the extent which at first might be 
anticipated. These remarks, let it be remembered, apply 
only to the external incidents of his life. Had he possessed 
a biographer enabled, by circumstances and kindred feeling, 
to record his conversation and the tone and character of 
his mind, to furnish us with the picture of his e very-day 
occupations, as he was at study in the cell, or at prayer in 
the Church, and to admit us to the communion with his 
spirit as his days passed in the retirement of the monastery, 
this indeed would have been a treasure." 

" Yet," Mr. Stevenson continues, " we scarcely have a 
right to expect such a document. Bede was, in his own time, 
no prominent character. . . . However much, therefore, 
we may lament the absence of an early biography of Bede, 



we ought not to be surprised at this omission. There was 
not much to record beyond his birth and his death, his 
prayers and his labours. He did not, like St. Guthlac, retire 
into the wilderness, and wage war with the evil spirits by 
which it was haunted. He did not, like St. Cuthbert, lay 
aside the bishop's robe for the hermit's cowl, and exchange 
the splendour of a court for the solitude of a rocky island. 
He did not, like St. Columbanus, carry the reputation of 
his native church into foreign countries, and establish 
monasteries which should vie with each other in recording 
the history of their founder. He did not, like St. Wilfrid of 
York, plead his cause before kings and synods, and strive, 
through all opposition, to raise the ecclesiastical power 
above the secular authority. He did not, like St. Wilbrord 
and St. Willibald, preach Christianity among the heathen, 
and leave home and kindred for the extension of the ever 
lasting gospel. Had he done any of these things he would, 
most probably, have found a biographer; but his life pre 
sented no such salient points, and it was unrecorded." * 

We have to see in the following chapters how long the 
notion prevailed that unless a man had taken part in great 
events his life was not considered worthy of detailed record. 
In other words, we must follow the course of biography 
until it frees itself from the entanglements of history. We 
must see how biography changed from a mere curriculum 
vitae to " the faithful portrait of a soul in its adventures 
through life." It was only as biography changed from 
mere narrative to such portraiture that it became truly 

1 The Church Historians of England, vol. i. part ii. Preface, pp. i-ii. 




THE years lying between 1066 and 1500 constitute a tran 
sition period as well in the development of the English 
language and nation, and of history, as in that of English 
biography. The transition period itself divides into two: 
the one extending from 1066 to about 1200; the second 
continuing from 1200 to about 1500. These dates are, of 
course, not arbitrary; they but represent, in a way, limits 
which overlap and merge into one another almost imper 
ceptibly. During the first of these divisions, the Normans 
slowly reduced the Saxon population to complete sub 
mission, while the genius of the Anglo-Saxon language was 
permeating the language of the Norman conquerors and 
slowly shaping itself to be the vehicle of thought-expression 
of the greater Britain of the future. The second division 
witnessed the ascendency of the English tongue, the libera- 
tionof history from the thraldom of the credulous imagination 
of the tales of miracle and wonder, and the rise of con 
ditions which made possible a kind of biography distinctly 
in advance of anything which had previously been known in 
the British Isles. So far as they contribute directly to the 
purpose of this volume, the four centuries may be quickly 

The period from 1066 to 1200 is rather distinctly marked. 
The purely Anglo-Saxon influence which preceded it rapidly 
declined, ending with the close of the Saxon Chronicle in 
1 154. Beginning with the date of the Norman Conquest and 
ending in 1199 with the reign of Richard I., the literature 


of the country " may be considered purely historical in 
comparison with any other period included in the middle 
ages. Saints' lives, legends, and miracles . . . now become 
comparatively rare; and if they do not disappear altogether 
before the increasing historical spirit of the age, they cease 
to be the exclusive sources of information for the historical 
inquirer." l It was at this time that William of Malmesbury 
came forward to put new life into the writing of history, 
" the first English writer after the time of Bede who 
attempted successfully to raise history above the dry and 
undigested details of a chronicle." 2 Of William of Malmes 
bury, a modern English historian asserts that " we may 
fairly claim for him the credit of being the first writer after 
Bede who attempted to give to his details of dates and 
events such a systematic connexion, in the way of cause 
and consequence, as entitles them to the name of history. 
. . . He prides himself, and with some reason, on his skill 
in the delineation of character " 8 His Gesta Pontificorum 
Anglorum has been pronounced " the foundation of the 
early ecclesiastical history of England on which all writers 
have chiefly relied." 4 These statements must be taken 
with due regard to the age of which they are spoken. They 
do not mean that history, as we understand it to-day, sprang 
full-fledged into being at this time; they mean simply that 
the line of demarcation is here drawn; that the dawn of 
better things is at hand. Such improvement as is thus 
indicated extends, of course, to the more strictly biographic 
narratives of this time. 

During this interval, the stream of biographical writing 

1 Hardy, Descriptive Catalogue, vol. ii. p. ix. 

8 Wright, Biographica Britannica Liter aria, vol. ii. p. 137. 

3 Stubbs, Willelmi Malmesbiriensis Monachi de Gestis Regum 
Anglorum (Rolls Series), vol. i. p. x. 

4 N. E. S. A. Hamilton, Willelmi Malmesbiriensis de Gestis Ponti- 
ficum Anglorum (Rolls Series), pp. ix-x. 


ran on in somewhat the same fashion as before 1066; that 
is, the language continued to be Latin, and the writers, 
churchmen; the authors recorded notices only of those 
prominent in Church or State; and, while professedly treat 
ing of individuals, gave not so much a personal account as 
a record of outward events. By those who are considering 
the development of biography, the great mass of such narra 
tives as were produced during this first half of the transition 
period may be passed over unnoticed. Here, again, these 
writings are of value chiefly to the historian. As before, we 
need select only such as seem to stand out from the mass as 
marking advance. 

Eadmer in his Life of Anselm, completed by 1140, enters 
somewhat carefully into the details of Anselm's boyhood 
and shows an appreciation of the human qualities of the 
subject of his memoir. " The chroniclers of those days," 
remarks R. W. Church, " were not in the habit of going 
back to a man's first days ; they were satisfied with taking 
him when he began to make himself known and felt in the 
world. It is a point of more than ordinary interest as regards 
Anselm, that we have some authentic information about 
the times when no one cared about him. He had the fortune 
to have a friend who was much with him in his later life 
. . . who, more than most of his contemporaries among 
literary monks, was alive to points of character. Eadmer 
. . . saw something else worth recording in his great arch 
bishop besides the public passages of his life and his 
supposed miracles. He observed and recorded what Anselm 
was as a man." 1 In an age when most writers thought 
" the getting possession of the tooth of a saint of more 
importance than such events " it is hopeful to find a writer 
like Eadmer. 

William of Malmesbury's chief contributions to biography 
1 Saint Anselm, pp. 7-8. 


are his Life of St. Aldhelm, written before 1125, and his 
Life of St. Wulstan (Wulfstari), Bishop of Worcester, dating 
from about I I4O. 1 The latter is based on an earlier but no 
longer existent Life by Coleman, a monk of Worcester and 
Prior of Westbury. The career of Thomas Becket, Arch 
bishop of Canterbury, attracted the attention of many of 
his own and the following generation. Worthy of mention 
here is the Life by Becket's clerk, William Fitz-Stephen; 
that by John of Salisbury, with its supplement by Alan of 
Tewkesbury; and the long, rambling Life by Herbert of 
Bosham. " Herbert is, indeed, one of the most provoking 
of authors. Instead of being content to tell an intelligible 
story, he continually digresses into long discourses which 
are quite beside the subject, and in themselves are mere 
nothingness; and when he has tried the reader's patience 
with tedious superfluities of this kind, he often spends a 
further space in vindicating his diffuseness, and in telling 
us that we ought to be thankful for it." z Becket was 
murdered in 1170. Within sixteen years after his death the 
lives here mentioned had been written, that by Herbert 
being most certainly completed by 1186. 

The most pretentious of such narratives, however, is 
what is known as the Magna Fita y the Great Life, of Hugh, 
Bishop of Lincoln, the work of Adam, Abbot of Eynsham, 
near Oxford, written between 1212 and 1220. In the Rolls 
Series edition 3 the Magna Vita occupies 378 large pages. 
Adam was a close personal friend of Hugh, knowing him so 
well, in fact, that Mr. Dimock says " we may look upon 

1 The Life of St. Aldhelm'may be found in Gale's Scriptores Rerum 
Anglicarum, vol. iii.; in Wharton's Anglia Sacra, vol. ii.; and in 
Hamilton's Gesta Pontificum Anglorum (Rolls Series). The Wulstan 
may be found in Anglia Sacra, vol. ii. pp. 241-70. 

James Craigie Robertson, Materials for the History of Thomas 
Becket (Rolls Series), vol. iii. pp. xxiii-iv. 

* Magna Vita St. Hugonis Episcopi Lincolniensis, edited by 
James F. Dimock. 


much of what this volume [the Magna Vita] contains, it 
seems strongly to me, almost as if it had been penned by 
Hugh's own hand." The Rev. George G. Perry, who, in his 
St. Hugh of Lincoln, made thorough use of the work of 
Adam, speaks of " the rich, full, and varied details of the 
Magna Vita "/ and yet, he continues, " it can . . . hardly 
be said that the writer . . . has left us, in the strict sense, 
a life of Hugh. The outlines of his earlier life are preserved, 
and the events of the few last years are pretty fully given, 
but for the ten or twelve years which followed after his 
elevation to the episcopate very little is supplied." It is 
worthy of note that the writer of the Magna Vita empha 
sises the man rather than the work of the man. Adam 
" treats the subject of his memoir altogether from the point 
of view of the saint, and scarce gives us any information as 
to his connexion with the public events of his day. . . . 
Hugh was not a statesman. He shrank altogether from 
secular affairs, and loved better to be cleaning the scuttles 
at Witham, than to be taking his place in the Curia Regis. 
There is, therefore, much more to say of his inner life than 
of his outer." * As a matter of fact, however, there could 
be no such thing as a "Life," in the strict sense of the word, 
at this early date, nor for many centuries. 

In common with everything else of the kind that had 
been written up until 1200, the Magna Vita is panegyric. 
The author exhibits a too eager desire to make everything 

1 Perry, St. Hugh of Lincoln, p. 253. Cf. also what Herbert 
Thurston, S.J., says : " Of all our mediaeval saints, there is not 
one in whom the man, as distinct from the bishop or the ruler, is so 
intimately known to us. Even St. Thomas of Canterbury, or St. 
Anselm, are spectral and shadowy figures in comparison. Hugh, 
thanks to the memoirs of his Benedictine chaplain, stands before us 
in flesh and blood. Despite its rather involved Latin, and its dis 
cursive style, the Life of the Saint known as the Magna Vita has 
left us a portrait superior for truth and vividness even to the sketch 
of his contemporary, Abbot Samson, in the Chronicle of Jocelin de 
Brakelond. The Life of St. Hugh of Lincoln, p. vi. 


redound to the " honour " of St. Hugh. " He has no doubt," 
remarks Mr. Perry, " drawn his hero as somewhat too 
perfect, but this we may readily excuse. Contrasted with 
most other writers of the Lives of Saints, he stands well. 
He exhibits far more traces of humanity than are to be 
found in most of them." 1 Indeed, we may say that the 
diminution in the record of the miraculous is remarkable. 
Hugh himself was no lover of the miraculous, looking upon 
the craving after miracles as evidence of want of faith. This 
attitude no doubt influenced his biographer strongly; at 
any rate, in the long narrative of the Magna Vita there are 
only nine references to miraculous events. The work stands, 
therefore, in line with the anonymous Life of Bede as illus 
trative of the change of temper in the minds of men towards 
the working of Providence in human affairs. From this 
time forth although allowing the error to revive at times 
in strange ways men were steadily freeing themselves of 
the shackles of superstition; were slowly groping towards 
the method of scientific investigation, calm reason, and 
accurate observation and recording. " And as the obscure 
mists of the legendary period disappear, and the steady 
light of facts dawns upon the grateful reader, so in the 
artless, unsystematic, and sometimes ill-arranged and con 
fused narratives and chronicles of the eleventh and the 
following century we seem to trace an era of intellectual 
progress when the mind of Europe had not yet been trained 
in the schools, and the great questions which agitated man 
kind had not yet been submitted to logical analysis and 
arrangement. The faculty of wonder and its attendant 
habit of exaggeration, natural to an early stage in the 
national life and its conversion from barbarism to Chris- 

1 " The great life of St. Hugh is one of the most bright and fresh 
of all the bright saint-lives of the Middle Ages." William Holden 
Hutton, The English Saints (Bampton Lectures, 1903), p. 213. 


tianity, gave way before the steadier observance of facts 
forced upon men by their altered position, by their new 
relations to the Continent, by the active duties and out 
door life imposed upon them, by the exigencies and demands 
of feudalism. But observation rose for the present to no 
higher grade than to a careful collection of historical facts 
and documents, and was itself to give place, in its turn, 
to the new habits of generalisation and deduction which 
observation itself had helped to produce." l 

The second half of this period of transition the three 
hundred years lying between 1200 and 1500 constitutes 
a time of almost entire suspense in the production of bio 
graphical narrative. These were the centuries of prepara 
tion for biography in the English language. They were 
centuries fraught with great consequences. The English 
language was slowly shaping itself for use, superseding the 
Norman French tongue in the law courts in 1362. From 
1381 onwards, translations of the Bible in English were 
exerting a deep influence upon the establishing of the lan 
guage, and upon modes of thought and manner of writing. 
Chaucer, the one brilliant literary light of the period, arose, 
and taking the language of his day, showed how effective it 
could be as an instrument of poetical narration. Men were 
gaining larger conceptions of life and liberty, winning for 
themselves between 1215 and 1225 rights typified by the 
Magna Charta. Britain was ceasing to be insular; the out 
look was no longer merely from the cloister: the Crusades 
had brought in new influences; and, most of all, the dis 
covery of America in 1492 opened wide the gates of the 
world. The wars by means of which the nation was shaping 
itself, as well as the great discoveries of new regions, made 
the period one of interest in events rather than in men, and 
biography as a business there could not be, until there came 
1 Hardy, Descriptive Catalogue, vol. ii. pp. ix-x. 


an overwhelming interest in men. Most of the literature 
of the period was objective rather than subjective. 

One work dating from the last portion of the fifteenth 
century attracts attention because of the extensive use of 
the personal anecdote. The author, John Blakman (Blake- 
man, or Blackman), may well be given the credit of being 
the first to appreciate the value of the personal anecdote. 
We know little more of Blakman (fl. 1436-48) than that he 
was admitted a fellow of Merton College, Oxford, in 1436, 
and that his position as fellow of Eton brought him into 
close personal relations with Henry VI. From his own 
knowledge, as well as from information gained through 
those in attendance upon the sovereign, Blakman wrote 
a brief collection of anecdotes illustrative of the virtues of 
Henry VI. 1 Under such headings as Devota habitudo ejus 
in ecclesia, Pudicitia ejus, Humilitas regis, and Pietas et 
patientia ejus, Blakman proceeds to develop what is in 
truth a catalogue of virtues amounting to a public testi 
monial or recommendation. It is indeed claimed that the 
work was composed to advance Henry VII.'s project of 
canonising Henry VI. We know that Henry VII. petitioned 
this canonisation of three popes in succession, Innocent 
VIII. (1484-92); Alexander VI. (1492-1503); and Julius 
II. (1508-13). " Blakman's apotheosis was doubtless 
intended to prepare the public mind for this step." 2 One 
of the best of Blakman's anecdotes is that which relates 
how Henry, in company with a number of his nobles and 
attendants, was confronted at Cripplegate with the muti 
lated body of a traitor set upon a stake. When the King 

1 Collectarium M ansuetudinum et Bonorum Morum Regis Henrici 
VI., ex collectione Magistri Joannis Blakman bacchalaurei theologiae, 
et post Cartusiae monachi Londini. First printed in Thomas Hearne's 
Duo Return Anglicarum, Oxford, 1732, pp. 285-307. 

a I. S. Leadam, Dictionary of National Biography, article " John 


learned whose body it was, and why it was exposed there, 
he immediately ordered that it be taken away, with the 
remark, " I am unwilling that any Christian should be so 
cruelly treated because of me." But it is well to have the 
story in Blakman's own words : " Primo, cum semel 
descenderet a villa sancti Albani Londinias per Crepylgate, 
videns supra portam ibi quartarium hominis positum super 
sudem sublimen, quaesivit, quid hoc esset ? Et respondent- 
ibus sibi dominis suis, quod erat IIII. pars cujusdam pro- 
ditoris sui, qui falsus fuerat regiae majestati, ait rex, 
Auferatur. Nolo enim aliquem Christianum tarn cTudeliter 
pro me tractari, & continuo sublatum est quartarium. Qui 
hoc vidit, testimonium dicit." The first ten centuries in the 
course of English biography produced only too few with 
such a sense as that of Blakman's for the little but reveal 
ing incidents of character. 

None of the narratives mentioned in either this chapter 
or in the one preceding could exert much influence on the 
actual development of biography, for the simple reason 
that they were not widely circulated. They existed only in 
the form of manuscripts slowly and laboriously copied by 
hand, and circulated among a limited number, all of whom 
belonged to the same class as did the producers of the works. 
None of them were printed until long after they were first 
composed. The Magna Vita of St. Hugh was not printed 
in full until 1864; its very length prevented it from being 
duplicated to any extent in its own day. This was true of 
all such narratives until the invention of printing. 

About 1476, William Caxton set up the first English 
printing press in a spot close to Westminster Abbey and 
thus began the work which was ultimately to make all 
kinds of English writing the common heritage of the people. 
Before the end of the fifteenth century the earliest paper- 
mill in England was established at Stevenage, in Hertford- 


shire, affording the means for a cheap multiplication of 
books. Edward IV. and his brothers encouraged the art 
of printing and helped to make it possible for the literature 
of the Renaissance and the thoughts of the rising Reforma 
tion to mould the minds and hearts of the nation to a new 
appreciation of human life and of human individuality. 

Nothing bears witness to the carelessness of the men of 
the period in regard to life records more than the con 
spicuous absence of materials for a biography of Geoffrey 
Chaucer. Chaucer was not only a poet; he was also a 
courtier, closely connected with the political life of his time. 
Beyond the merest records of outward events, however, and 
most of these collected in modern times, we have nothing 
from which to attempt to reconstruct his life. " The study 
of Chaucer's life may be divided into two periods, that of 
the legend, and that of the appeal to fact. The first period 
extends from Leland to Nicolas, the second from Nicolas to 
the Life-Records gathered by the Chaucer Society, and 
subsequently. . . . The work of killing the legend has, 
however, been difficult." 1 

Thus it is that the four centuries clearly constitute a 
period of transition and preparation. The succeeding 
period will be much influenced by its predecessor; the new 
will be a period of gradual loosening of the old habits of 
thought and methods of writing, and a slow breaking away 
from the influence of the Latin language. When next we 
meet with biography written for the first time in the 
national language, we shall find that it is almost a beginning 
de novo. 

1 Eleanor Prescott Hammond, Chaucer: A Bibliographical Manual, 
p. I. See also Thomas R. Lounsbury, Studies in Chaucer, passim. 




CONTEMPORANEOUSLY with the prose lives of saints there was 
produced a vast number of such lives in verse. These con 
stitute an interesting stage in the progress of hagiology; in 
fact, apart from accounts of the lives and miracles of saints, 
very few biographical narratives in verse, of any sort, exist, 
whether in Latin or English. We have already remarked 
Bede's reference to his Life of St. Cuthbtrt, written in Latin 
verse, and have observed that a number of other such 
Latin verse lives are extant. All that has been said in 
connexion with the prose lives in regard to the questions 
of authorship and authenticity applies with equal force to 
these kindred verse narratives. The work of the Early 
English Text Society has done much to render accessible 
the most important of these lives; it remains true, how 
ever, that only a beginning has been made the work of 
publishing and of reducing to order the whole mass is yet 
before English scholars. 1 From such a quantity of anony 
mous writing for usually the patient monks who com 
posed, re-composed, copied, and re-copied these lives 

*A recent (1915) statement of the Early English Text Society 
calls attention to this fact: " The subscribers to the Original series 
must be prepared for the issue of the whole of the Early English 
Lives of the Saints sooner or later. The standard collection of 
saints' lives in the Corpus and Ashmole MSS., the Harleian MS. 
2277, etc., will repeat the Laud set, our No. 87, with additions and 
in right order. The foundation MS. Laud 108 had to be printed 
first to prevent quite unwieldy collations. The supplementary 
lives from the Vernon and other MSS. will form one or two separate 


laboured, died, and " gave no sign " of their own indivi 
duality the names of only a few authors emerge to satisfy 
our curiosity, and of these, little is known. They flit across 
the pages of history like shadows out of the past. 

Through the medium of Aelfric (fl. 1 006) the habit of 
writing verse lives was carried over into Old English. His 
Lives of Saints, a set of sermons on Saints' Days formerly 
observed by the English Church, are written in a loose sort 
of alliterative verse, so loose that Professor Skeat agrees 
that " those who prefer to consider the text as being all 
equally in prose can do so by disregarding the division 
into lines," although he affirms that " in most of the 
narratives some attempt at embellishment is very 
evident." 1 

Robert of Gloucester (Jl. 1260-1300), whose Chronicle 
has gained for him a place in English literature, has been 
half-heartedly credited with the authorship of a number 
of verse lives in Early English. Among others which have 
been assigned to him are those of St. Alban, St. Augustine, 
St. Birin, and St. Aldhelm. These are written in the same 
kind of rhyming verse as the Chronicle, and while we may 
agree that arbitrarily to assign the authorship of them to 
him on this account alone would be practically to affirm 
that at the end of the thirteenth century only Robert of 
Gloucester could write such verse, we need not for this 
reason deprive him of the honour of authorship of what, 
after all, he may have written. 2 It is well to remember in 
addition, that the form of Robert of Gloucester's work, to 
which Dr. W. Aldis Wright refers as " doggerel verse in 

1 See E.E.T.S. No. 76, Original Series (1881). 

* "... a bulky collection of saints' lives, immensely popular, 
constantly rehandled, altered, and added to the work, doubtless, 
in all their forms put together of a very large number of writers, but 
in some of the earliest cases at least very probably, if not almost 
certainly, Robert's." Saintsbury, History of English Prosody, vol. i. 
pp. 67-8. 


ballad metre," marks a distinct advance in the develop 
ment of English metre. 1 

The two centuries following Robert of Gloucester supply 
four names worthy of mention. The voluminous John 
Lydgate (i37O?-!45i ?), who wrought in many fields, and 
who has been credited with introducing the legendary epic 
into English literature, produced a number of saints' lives 
in verse. Of these, the shorter and more compact Saint 
Margaret is superior to the long, poorly told St. Edmund 
and Fremund. Osbern Bokenham, or Bokenam (1393- 
1447 ?) wrote in verse the lives of a number of female saints 
and thus earned for himself an almost unique place in Early 
English literature. 2 John Capgrave (1393-1464), Prior of 
the Austin Friary at Lynn, Norfolk, wrote the Life of St. 
Katharine of Alexandria at great length; the five books 
into which it is divided comprise more than eight thousand 
lines. Henry Bradshaw (d. 1513), " sometyme monke in 
Chester," translated " out of latine in English rude and 
vyle " a legend, which, " amended with many an ornate 
style," became known as the Life of St. Werburge of Chester. 
After Bradshaw there is little to record. We are, with him, 
drawing near to the age of Shakespeare. Other interests are 
beginning to absorb the attention of men. The verse lives of 
saints are nearing the time of eclipse. 

From such an array, it is difficult to select examples. 
Quotation scarcely does justice to the longer lives, such as 
Lydgate's Margaret and Edmund and Fremund, or Cap- 

1 See Wright, The Metrical Chronicle of Robert of Gloucester (Rolls 
Series), vol. i. p. xxxix: and Saintsbury, History of English Prosody, 
vol. i. pp. 67-9. 

1 " Twice in the earlier English (and no other) literature was an 
attempt made to put together the lives of female saints : by Boken 
ham in verse, and in the present collection [The Lives of Women 
Saints of our Countrie of England, in prose] a peculiar instance of 
the veneration which the weaker part of mankind, especially its 
godlike members, enjoys in this island." E.E.T.S. No. 86, Original 


grave's St. Katharine. These should be read at length by 
those who wish to gain a notion of their manner and quality. 
Most of the verse lives, however, are comparatively brief, 
and written in a style so manifestly similar that the reading 
of one or two will give a fair notion of the rest. We may, 
then, choose two which commemorate great names in early 
British church annals that of Saint Cuthbert, the rigid 
ascetic, yet tender-hearted ecclesiastic of the North; and 
that of Saint Alban, commonly known as the proto-martyr 
of Britain. 

The Life of St. Cuthbert from which these excerpts are 
taken is anonymous. 1 The opening lines plunge at once 
into the story of the miraculous announcement to Cuthbert 
that he was destined to become a great man in the Church : 

" Seint Cuthbert was bore: here in ingelond* 
God dide for him fair meracle: as 36 schul understand* 
Whil he was a 3ong child : in his ei3ten)>e 3 ere* 
Wij? childre he pleide at J?e bal : fat his f elawis were* 
J>ere cam forj? a lite child : him J>ou3te J?re 3er old* 
A swete creatur and a fair: it was mylde and bold* " 

Cuthbert took no notice of the warning to " thinke not on 
sich idil games," and 

" J?o J?is songe child seigh: pat he his reed for sok* 
A doun he fel to J?e ground : and gret dol to him tok* 
It began to wepe sore : and his handis to wringe* 
}?ese childre hadden dol of him: & bi lesten here pleienge* " 

Cuthbert now began to perceive that the " swete fair 
creature " was an angel, and from it he received the assur 
ance that he was to be made " an hed of holi churche." 
Turning at once from his game-playing, Cuthbert entered 
upon a life of serious study and devotion. In a most 
succinct manner, the anonymous writer follows the course of 

1 The version given is that of MS. Tanner 17 (Bodleian), ff. 42^43, 
dating from the fifteenth century. It contains 108 lines in all. 


Cuthbert's life to his elevation to the bishopric of Durham , 
from which point the narrative hurries to its close : 

" J>o oure lordis wille was: per after it gan falle* 
pat pe bischop of dorham deide : as we ichul don alle* 
Men wente & toke seint cuthbert : & made him bischop pere* 
His bischopriche he kepte wel : & wel J?e folk gan lere* 
J>o was it to-forj?e broust: J?at J>e angil him er seide* 
fat he schulde ben hed of holi chirche: as at J?e bal he pleide* 
J?o he hadde longe serued god : aftir him he sente* 
So )?at in )?e monej? of march: out of Jris world he wente* 
To J>e hi 36 ioye of heuene: gode lete us also* 
And Jx>ru >>e bone of seint cuthbert: bringe us alle perto." 

The Life of St. Alban, which is brief enough to be given 
in full, is one of the narratives ascribed to Robert of 
Gloucester. Its ninety-eight lines are confined almost 
entirely to telling the story of what has come to be styled 
the first British martyrdom. The narrative of Alban's 
hiding a persecuted Christian fugitive, and of his own con 
version through watching the prayers of this outcast; of 
the cruel punishment that " shame it was to see "; of the 
death " up the hill on high " all this makes an irresistible 
appeal, an appeal the pathos of which is heightened by the 
quaint language and verse. We can well understand how, 
in an age which gave birth to so many legends of the 
miraculous, such stories as this found eager readers* and 
may well feel sure that the quaint verse, which has not yet 
lost its flavour, made a sure appeal to those who read for 
themselves, or listened to others read: 

" Seyn Albon J?e holi mon: was her of engelonde* 
Imartred he was uor godes loue: J>oru our lordes sonde* 
Hepene man he was uerst: & of hepene he com* 
& sej>)>e as our lord it wolde: he tornde to Christendom* 
J?e luj?er prince J?at was J>o: dioclitian* 
& )>e oj?er J>at was luj>er ek: J?at hit maximian* 
Cristenemen pat hi mi3te iwite: hi broste alle to grounde* 
A let hem seche in ech londe: war hi mi3te be ifounde* 



A justice pat was wip hem: to engelonde corn- 
To martri alle cristenemen: & destine cristendom 
A clerc a good cristenemon : hurde telle wide* 
Of tormens pat opere hadde: he ne dorste no leng abide* 
Ac flei to hude him ellesware: pat he imartred nere* 
To St. Albones hous he com : & bad him in pere* 
St. Albon po he was wip him: awaitede & isay 
Hou he was in orisouns: bope ny3t & dai* 
Him }>o3te pat he was a fol: pat he was hepene so longe* 
He bigon to leue on ihesu crist : & cristendom auonge* 
pe justice let pen clerc seche: so pat it was ikud* 
Hou at Albones hous: wip him he was ihud* 
Knystes he sende him to vetch : 3if he ifounde were* 
Hi come & escce Albon: wer eny such were pere* 
30 uor gode quap pis oper: i ne him no3t uorsake* 
A such man as ich am mysulf : i nele 3ou non oper take- 
A pef quepe pis luper men: artou icome herto* 
Wen pu wolt as a strong pef: to depe pu worst ido* 
pis holi mon hi bounde uaste: & to pe justice him bro3te* 
& tolde him hou he pulte him uorp: uor pe oper pat hi so3te- 
Bel amy quap pe justice: sei wat is pi name* 
& of wat kunne pu art icome: pat dost cure godes schame* 
To pis demaunde quap St. Albon: ichulle ansuere sone* 
Of wat kunne icham icome: pu hast lute to done* 
Albon is my name iwis : & ic honore also* 
God pat made al pat is : & euermore wole do* 
A traitour quap pe justice: artou icome herto* 
Ic schal tormenti al pi bodi : f ram toppe to pe to* 
Hastou ihud atom pen pef: pat dop ous such schame* 
& ipult uorp pi sulue: wreche in his name* 
Honoure oure godes ic pe rede : & do hem sacrifice* 
Oper ichulle pe tormenti : pat men schulle of pe agrise* 
Uor pu specst quap St. Albon: peraboute pu spillest brep 
I nele neuer pen deuel honoure: uor drede of pi dep* 
Wrop was pe justice po: pis holi mon he nom* 
Naked he let him uaste bynde: & 3af sone is dom* 
Wip scourges is tormentors: leide on him inowe* 
So uaste pat hi weri were : & al is bodi to drowe* 
pe harde knottes gonne depe: in is fiesc wade- 
pe more pat hi him bete: pe gladdore hi him made* 
po pe luper justice isai: pat it was al uor no3t* 
pat he ne mi3te fram ihesu crist: uor no ping torne is pO3t 
He let him lede wippoute toun: & is heued smyte of sone* 


pe tormentors all 3are were: uorte don is bone- 
Hi harlede him so vilich : pat schame it was to se* 
Uorte hi come to pulke stude : pere he scholde imartred be- 
To an urnynge broke hi com : pere hi moste on wade* 
pe tormentors wode on abrod: & no strenpe ne made* 
po pis holi mon puder com: pat water him wip drou* 
& ouer pe broke he made an wei: druse & clene inou* 
pat ouer he wende also: druse as it alonde were* 
Al bihynde him euer pat water : smot to gadere pere* 
& com ayn al as it was : po he com to londe* 
Lord much is pi miste: hoso it wole understonde* 
Hoso hadde mepencep such an hyne : to lede him about ilome- 
He ne dorste no ping carie to wuch: water he come* 
pe maister of pe tormentors : to warn he was bitake* 
po he sei pis uayre miracle : pen deuel he gan uorsake* 
& is suerd pat he bar an honde: wel uer fram him caste* 
He uel to St. Albones uet : & criede mercy him uaste* 
pat he moste uor him deie: oper bote it oper were* 
pat he wip him in pe place: pen dep auenge pere* 
Up an hul he wende an hei : as hi were asigned to* 
Wip pis holi mon St. Albon: pe dede to do* 
St. Albon wilnede afterward : up pe hul an hei* 
He bihuld pat pere ne miste: no water come pere nei* 
Our lord he bad myd gode herte: pat he sende is grace* 
pat som water moste come : to him in pulke place* 
po he hadde ido is orison : & our lord ibede* 
pere sprong upon pe heie hul : a welle in pulke stede* 
pe beste water pat mi$te be : pat 3ut ilast ic wene* 
Euer was & euer worp: our lordes miste isene* 
pis gode knyst pat bileuede on god: uor pat he say er 
Wel more he criede po on him : uor pe miracle pere* 
& wilnede much pat he moste: wip him deie pere* 
So pat in our lordes name: bope imartred hi were 
Ac pe tormentor pat smot of : St. Albones heued* 
He ne dorste nost selpe pereof : him were better halbe bileued* 
Uor po he smot of is heued : ri$t in pulke stounde 
His eien uelle out of is heued: & perewip he uel to grounde 
His bisete was lute pere: it uel adoun al bihinde* 
He miyte segge wan he com horn: war her comep pe blynde* 
Louerd muchel is pi miste: hoso wolde understonde* 
pere bi pi wiperwynne: as men mi$te fonde 
St. Albon imartred was : her in engelonde* 
Biside pe toun of wynchestre : as ic understonde 


J?ere is nou a chirch arered : & a gret abbei also* 
J>at men clepej? St. Albones: as he was to de}?e ido* 
Nou bidde we 3erne St. Albon: & ihesu crist wel uaste' 
J?at we mote to J>e joie come: J?at euer schal laste." x 

All the verse lives of saints, whether written in Latin, 
Old, or Middle English, exhibit the same common traits. 
They seize upon a few of the salient points in the lives of the 
heroes and develop these usually with reference to the 
degree of wonder which the incidents are likely to excite. 
The purpose of them all is frankly to commemorate the holi 
ness of their subjects, and to incite others to discipleship 
and emulation. As biographical documents they are, in 
common with all saints' lives, one-sided : they are religious 
documents, detailing spiritual struggles for spiritual ends, 
and if they pause to record anything of the mere physical, 
earthly existence, they do so merely to emphasise the 
spiritual, or, at worst, to gratify some whim of the writer. 
It is true that, as the strictly spiritual purpose of these 
lives receded into the background, and the narratives 
became more and more stories to amuse and to aid in 
whiling away the time, elements of humour and satire far 
enough from the spiritual were introduced. Professor 
Saintsbury finds the origin of Romance 2 in " the marriage 
of the older East and the newer (non-classical) West 
through the agency of the spread of Christianity and the 
diffusion of the ' Saint's Life ' "; the Rev. Alfred Plummer, 
as we have already seen, refers to saints' lives as " the 
novels of all ranks of society." If we may accept these 
views, we should have no difficulty in acknowledging that 

> This version is a transcript of MS. Ashmole 43, ff. 1640-165^ 
In Early English Verse Lives of Saints another version, that of 
MS. Laud 108, in 106 lines, is given. MS. Laud 108 is the oldest 
of the various versions of the verse lives (c. 1280-90), but Ashmole 
43 (c. 1 300) more properly represents the dialect in which the original 
is composed. 

J The English Novel, p. 3. 


in the lives of saints (prose and verse) we have the begin 
nings of the " novel with a purpose." 1 

Apart from these metrical lives of saints, the story of 
English biography in verse is indeed brief. After a fashion, 
The Mirror for Magistrates continued the work abandoned 
by the monkish writers and catered to the appetites of those 
who loved verse narratives somewhat after the fashion 
of saints' lives. It is significant that John Lydgate 
forms the connecting link between the two kinds of narra 
tives. The Mirror for Magistrates grew out of Lydgate's 
translation of The boke of lohan Bochas descruying the fall 
of Princes, Princesses, and other Nobles, of which, in truth, 
it was a continuation. " Whan the printer had purposed 
with himself to printe Lidgates booke of the fall of Princes," 
thus writes William Baldwin, the original editor (1555- 
1610) of The Mirror, " and had made pryuye therto many 
both honourable and worshipfull, he was counsailed by 
dyuers of them to procure to have the storye contynewed 
from where as Bochas left, vnto this present time, chiefly 
of such as Fortune had dalyed with here in this ylande: 
which might be as a mirrour for al men as well nobles as 
others." The title of the work, however, indicates that the 
whole, while based upon biography, is not biographical in 
purpose : The Mir our for Magistrates, wherein may bee 
seene, by examples passed in this Re dime with how greeuous 
plagues vices are punished in great Princes and Magistrates : 

1 " They represent the Christian mythology as it has been formed 
in the course of centuries. Some of them are historical or fixed by 
tradition; others are the result of fiction, typical of the Christian 
hero. The style of these legends is, no doubt, coarse and rude to the 
modern taste; but it is popular, adapted to the subject, to the public, 
and to the occasion. The narrative is generally happy and well con 
ducted. . . . Everywhere we find dispersed sallies of wit and sarcasm 
which spare no class, no sex, not the clergy itself. So the Collection 
deserves attention, not only from an hagiologic, but also from a 
poetic and literary point of view." Early English Verst Lives of 
Saints, Introduction, No. 87, E.E.T.S. Original Series. 


and how frail and vnstable worldly prosperity is found, where 
Fortune seemeth most highly to favour. Sackville, in the 
Induction, also states plainly the didactic purpose of the 
book : 

" My busie mynde presented vnto mee 
Such fall of peeres as in the realme had bee : 
That oft I wisht some would their woes descryue, 
To warne the rest whome fortune left a Hue." 

Thus it is that The Mirror for Magistrates, called forth by 
Lydgate's translation of Boccaccio's book, plainly bio 
graphical in principle, and continuing the popular verse- 
narrative literature, is only so far biography as is necessary 
to " point a moral " and " to warne the rest." 

The Mirror for Magistrates is, for still another reason, 
closely connected with the story of biography in verse. 
Among its " examples " we find Thomas Churchyard's 
legend, founded on the narrative of Cardinal Wolsey's life, 
relating " How Thomas Wolsey did arise unto great 
authority and gouernment, his manner of life, pompe, and 
dignity, and how he fell downe into great disgrace, and was 
arrested of high treason." * Churchyard's contribution is 
written in a seven-line stanza of decasyllabic verse, 
rhyming ababbcc. In 1599 there appeared The Life and 
Death of Thomas Wolsey, Cardinall. Divided into three parts : 
His Aspiring, Triumph and Death. By Thomas Storer, 
Student of Christ Church in Oxford. This work, written after 
the model of Churchyard's legend, may more properly 
claim a place in the annals of biography. 

Of Sir Thomas Storer (1571-1604) but little is known 
beyond the facts that he became a student of Christ Church 
in 1587, proceeded to the degree of B.A. in 1591, and that 
of M.A. in 1594, and is represented by a number of lyrics in 
England 9 s Parnassus (1600). His fame rests chiefly upon 

1 Haslewood's edition, vol. ii. pp. 484-501. 


the metrical Life of Wolsey. Anthony Wood records that 
he was " had in great renown for his most excellent vein in 
poesy," and makes mention of a eulogy bestowed upon 
him by Alberic Gentilis after that learned doctor had 
perused the Wolsey poem. We are reminded that Storer 
" is not to be confounded with such as only wrote thus 
because it was the mode," and that testimonies such as 
those recorded by Wood, " pronounced in the age of 
Spenser, of Raleigh, and Sackville, are not to be regarded 
as trivial praise." l 

In the Life and Death of Wolsey, Storer gives no new 
facts. He follows closely the prose Life of Wolsey by George 
Cavendish, and the account given in Holinshed, selecting 
" from the known details of so eventful a life such passages 
as form the best theme for poetical ornament or moral 
reflection." We are not, therefore, surprised to find that 
later writers a commend the historical veracity of Storer's 
poem. Of the three parts into which the whole is divided, 
the Wolseius aspirans comprises one hundred and one 
stanzas; the Wolseius triumphans, eighty-nine; and the 
Wolseius moriens, fifty-one the stanza form being that of 
Churchyard's Wolsey legend. The work exhibits both the 
good and the bad qualities of the poetry of the age. The 
classical machinery and allusions, the elaboration, the 
obscurity " arising from the inveterate love of conceits," 

1 Introduction to 1826 edition, Life and Death of Wolsey, pp. xi-xii. 

1 In a letter (Dec. 31, 1705) to Thomas Hearne, Thomas Smith 
wrote: " I believe some good historical remarks may be collected 
from Storer's books, of the Life and Death of Cardinal Wolsey, in 
English verse . . . the poets of that age for the most part not 
corrupting the truth of fact with the additions of phansy and fable, 
but thinking that they had done their part well enough if they had 
put their collections into rithme." Letters by Eminent Persons, vol. 
i. p. 145. This is the letter erroneously attributed to John Aubrey 
in the article on Storer in Diet. Nat. Biog. In the Letters, vol. i. p. 147, 
the remark is also made that Shakespeare probably took the story 
of Wolsey's fall from this source. 


contrast strongly with the ease and smoothness of versifi 
cation, the occasional simplicity and dignity, and a vivid 
imagery that now and then approaches poetry of high 
quality. The whole takes the form of a story addressed by 
Wolsey to the two Muses, Clio and Melpomene. To Clio are 
addressed the "Aspiring" and the "Triumph"; to 
Melpomene the " tragicke mone " of the " Dying." In 
effect, the work is a monologue. It is worth while to quote 
somewhat at length from the poem. Treating as it does of a 
great subject, related as it is to the work of Cavendish and 
Holinshed, necessarily to be thought of in connexion with 
Shakespeare's King Henry Fill., possessing a merit of its 
own, and standing all but unique in biographical history, 
it has a claim upon our attention, which, apart from this 
combination of circumstances, could not be accorded to it. 
The narrative introduces us at once into the presence of 
Wolsey and the two Muses : 

" Betweene two Muses, in the deepe of night, 
There sate a reverend Father, full of woe : 
They gaz'd on him, and from that dismall sight 
A kind remorse was willing them to go ; 
But cruell fortune would not have it so : 
Fortune, that erst his pride had overthrowne, 
Would have her power by his misfortune knowne. 

" Where fruitfull Thames salutes the learned shoare, 
Was this grave Prelate and the Muses placed; 

And by those waves he builded had before 
A royall house, with learned Muses graced, 
But by his death unperfect and defaced: 

' O blessed walls, and broken towers, (quoth he) 

That never rose to fall againe with me ! 

" ' To thee, first sister of the learned nine, 

Historians' goddesse, patronesse of fame 
Entombing worthies in a living shrine, 
Celestial Clio 1 Clio, peerlesse dame, 
My storie's truth and triumph I will frame; 


My storie's simple truth, if ought remaine, 
Enrich my legend with thy sacred veine. 

" ' The sad discourse of my untimely fall, 

O tragique Muse, shall pierce thy sullen cares, 
Melpomene ! though nothing can apall 

Thy heart, obdurate in contempt of feares; 
My, my laments shall make thee write in tearea, 
If, 'mong thy scrolles of antique majestic 
Thou deigne to place a Prelate's tragedie.' " 

In the story of the introduction of the Cardinal to 
Henry VII., Storer puts into the mouth of Wolsey a char 
acterisation of Bishop Fox of Winchester, which has been 
much admired: 

" ' A man made old to teach the worth of age, 

Patriarke-like, and grave in all designes ; 
One that had finish'd a long pilgrimage : 
Sparing in diet, abstinent from wines, 
His sinews small as threeds or slender lines; 
Lord of the citty, where with soleme rites 
The old prince Arthur feasted with his Knights. 

" ' He saw my gifts were such as might deserve, 
He knew his life was drawing to an end, 

He thought no meanes so likely to preserve 
His fame, with time and envy to contend, 
As to advance some faithful-serving friend, 

That, living, might in time to come record 

Th' immortall praise of his deceased lord. 

" ' He brought me first in presence of the King, 
Who then allotted me his Chaplain's place; 
My eloquence did such contentment bring 
Unto his eares, that never prince did grace 
Poore chaplaine more, nor lowly priest embrace 
Dread soveraigne so : for nature teacheth ever 
Who loves preferment needes must love the giver.' " 

The story of Wolsey's mission to arrange a treaty of 
marriage between Henry VII. and Margaret of Savoy, 
daughter of the Emperor Maximilian, who was at that 
time in Flanders, is thus told : 


' ' Next, who but I was sent Embassadour, 

With Europe's greatest monarch to intreat, 
Caesar of Almaine, German's emperour; 
In Belgia keeping his imperiall seat, 
To handle matters of importance great: 
My hap was such, the king could hardly ghesse 
Which pleasde him more, my speede or good successe. 

" ' The Argonauticke vessel never past 

With swifter course along the Colchan maine 

Then my small barke, with faire and speedy blast, 
Convay'd me forth, and reconvay'd againe. 
Thrice had Arcturus driv'n his restlesse waine, 

And heav'ns bright lampe the day had thrice reviv'd, 

From last departure till I first arriv'd. 

" ' The king, not deeming I had yet beene gone, 
Was angry for my long surmiz'd delay. 

I tolde his majestic, that all was done, 
And more than all ; and did his pardon pray, 
That I beyond commission went astray; 

And could have wisht for ever to be chid, 

With answer to content as then I did.' " 

When Wolsey has won his way into the heart of Henry 
VII., and is nearing the zenith of his career, Storer makes 
him speak in this manner: 

" ' Transplanted thus into a fertile spring, 

And watred from above with heav'nly dew, 
Enlightned with the presence of my king, 
My branches waxed large and faire of hew; 
And all about fresh buddes of honour grew, 
Garlands of lordships, blossomes of degree, 
White roddes of office, keyes of knightly fee.' " 

After we have followed the aspiring and the triumph of 
the great Cardinal, we hear him confessing to Melpomene 
the frailty of human fortune : 

" ' With honorable burdens I have tir'de 

My fortune's wheele, that it can turne no more; 
The leases of my lordships are expir'de, 

My lamp burnt out, poore metaphor's great store, 
To trope my miseries my heart growes sore. 


Help me, for I have surfeited of late, 
Some Paracelsian of a sublimate. 

" ' Sublim'd indeede, but all the purest gone, 

The treasure is in others coffers laid ; 
Now write, Melpomene, my tragicke mone; 
Call Neroe's learned maister, he will ayd 
Thy failing quill, with what himself once sayd: 
Never did fortune greater instance give, 
In what fraile state prowd magistrates do live.' " 

In this extremity, the fallen prelate is yet not without 
hope; with these words the " sad discourse " ends and 
silence reigns " in the deepe of night " : 

" ' Yet I that durst offend, dare hope for grace 

Beyond all reason, contrary to sence; 
Salvation heavy sinners may embrace, 
If God remit the guilt of deep offence; 
Let all the world hang in their own suspence; 
The world is but a poynt, whereon men dwell, 
And I am at a poynt what they can tell. 

" ' If any billes of new inditement come, 

At the King's bench in heav'n I must appeere, 
Long since arrested, now expect my doome; 
Sue where you list, but I must answere there, 
Die and accuse me in that hemisphere; 
Nor flesh, nor bloud my declaration telles. 
Mine owne accuser in my bosome dwelles. 

" ' In whose great temple, richly beautified, 

Pav'd al with starres disperst on saphyre flowre, 

The clarke is a pure angel sanctified ; 

The Judge, our true Messias, full of powre; 
The Apostles, his assistants every houre: 

The jury, Saints; the verdict, Innocent; 

The sentence " Come, ye blessed, to my tent! " 

" ' The speare that pierc'd his side, the writing pen; 

Christ's bloud the inke, red inke for princes name; 
The vailes great breach, the miracle for men; 
The sight is shew of them that, long dead, came 
From their old graves, restor'd to living frame; 
And that last signet, passing all the rest, 
Our soules discharg'd by Consummatum est I 


" ' Here endlesse joy is their perpetuall cheare; 
Their exercise, sweete songs of many parts ; 
Angells the quire, whose symphonic to heare, 
Is able to provoke conceiving harts 
To misconceive of al inticing arts ; 
The dittie, prayse; the subject is the Lord, 
That tunes their gladsome spirit to this accord. 

" ' Stay then, till some good meteor appeare; 

Or let the sunne exhale me, vapor-wise; 
Stirre Charles' wayne, and see the coast be cleare; 

Let no congealed clowdes or mistes arise 

Along the mooving circle of the skies : 
Or rather, shut up all in darksome night, 
That none may see my silent secret flight.' " 

It has several times been suggested that Shakespeare 
may have had the subject of Wolsey's fall brought to his 
attention by this poem. However that may be, it is worth 
while to look at the manner in which both writers have 
borrowed from what is undoubtedly the common source. 
This pathetic sentence from Cavendish's Life of Wolsey 
" ' Well, well, master Kingston,' quoth he, ' I see the matter 
against me how it is framed; but if I had served God as 
diligently as I have done the king, he would not have given 
me over in my grey hairs ' " was copied verbatim by Holin- 
shed, from whom Shakespeare doubtless borrowed it and 
thus introduced it into King Henry Fill. : 

\ " Had I but served my God with half the zeal 
I served my king, he would not in mine age 
Have left me naked to mine enemies." . 

Storer's version of the sentence runs : 

" ' And had the dutie to my God bin such, 
As it was faithful serving to the king, 
Then had my conscience, free from feare or touch, 
Mounted aloft on cherubins swift wing, 
In holy consort borne apart to sing. 
That now with heavy weight is overspread, 
And with my body wishes to be dead.' " 


Unequal in quality as the poem is, and defaced by 
faults of obscurity and affectation, it yet repays those who 
take the trouble to read it. Its intimate connexion with the 
narratives of Cavendish and Holinshed, and through them 
to the work of Shakespeare, must, apart from any merit 
of its own, keep it in remembrance. Its disregard and 
rejection of every detail save those which lend themselves 
to the progress of verse narrative clearly indicate the dis 
advantages of poetry as a biographical medium. 

Verse lives exerted no influence on the development of 
later English biography. The verse lives of saints, although 
they constitute an interesting phase in the development of 
hagiology, nevertheless, in the evolution of biography in 
general, represent an extinct branch, and their influence is 
negligible. Biography in the etymological sense does 
not readily lend itself to treatment in verse ; the story of a 
life is not the story of a few great moments, and the sup 
pression or rejection of all that goes to make up by far the 
greater part of that life. The history of the form proves this. 
Verse lives of saints are interesting relics of the past. 
Storer s metrical Life of Wolsey stands alone in biography. 
Tusser, whose verse " Life " is recognised as the first auto 
biography in English, waited more than two centuries 
before Wordsworth kept him company. If the space here 
allotted to verse lives should seem to any to be out of pro 
portion to their value, we can only plead that their very 
incompetency and failure seem to call for a treatment more 
extended than their influence on the general development 
of the course of biography would merit. 




DURING the time included within the limits of this chapter, 
the old habits of life-writing disappeared and the new 
beginnings were made of biography in the English tongue. 
The bonds of the old biographical methods loosened almost 
imperceptibly; the transition to English was gradual. Not 
withstanding the fact that many lives of saints in prose 
and verse were written in English, the supremacy of the 
Latin language relaxed slowly, maintaining itself, in truth, 
until far into the eighteenth century. As the interest in 
hagiology declined, a new interest in antiquarian research 
arose, and led to the production of many ^collections which 
are fundamentally biographical. At first, as was inevitable 
in such a period, these collections were written in Latin. 
Later on, similar collections were published in English; 
but it was practically a century after the publication of the 
first biographical collection in English before Latin was 
abandoned by the writers of these compilations. These 
products of the new antiquarian spirit form one of the most 
characteristic features of this period. 

To John Boston (fi. 1410), a Benedictine monk of the 
monastery of St. Edmunds-Bury, Suffolk, is generally 
ascribed the honour of beginning this antiquarian research 
and compilation. Boston, " who gave the first example of 
that method which succeeding writers pursued," examined 
the libraries of all the abbeys in England, made an alpha 
betical list of the books contained therein, and gave brief 
notices of the authors. Those who continued the method 


in Latin, with varying degrees of improvement, were John 
Leland (d. 1552), appointed King's Antiquary in 1533, 
" the first and indeed the last that bore that honourable 
office"; John Bale (1495-1563); and John Pits (1560- 
1616); followed later by Thomas Dempster (1579 -1625), 
who professed to commemorate the Scotch authors; Sir 
James Ware (1594-1666), who recorded notices of authors 
born or preferred in Ireland; William Cave (1637-1713), 
who, in his ambitious Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Historia 
LiUraria^ begins his list of writers with Jesus Christ " on 
account of the celebrated epistle which he wrote to 
Abgarus " (" quam ob celebrem illam ad Abgarum Edes- 
senum epistolam"); and Thomas Tanner (1674-1735). 
Tanner's great work, which embodies the result of forty 
years' labour, was edited by Dr. David Wilkins, and 
published in 1748, under the title Bibliotheca Britannico- 
Hibernica. The Bibliotheca, based upon the work of Leland, 
Bale, and Pits, and containing the substance of Boston's 
unpublished manuscript, fitly represents the culmination 
of the original group of compilers. It was the last of such 
works published in Latin. 

The works * of Leland, Bale, and Pits have not been 
generally accessible to students, most of the information in 
regard to them being taken at second-hand. Perhaps for 
this reason they have been rated higher than they deserve. 
Examination shows the information which they contain to 
be scant, fanciful, inaccurate, prejudiced, even ludicrous. In 
referring to the books, one is amused to find Leland start 
ing out with a dissertation on the Druids; Bale beginning 

1 Inasmuch as the works of antiquarians and compilers of diction 
aries of biography are limited to notices and sketches of writers, it 
has been deemed best not to discuss them at length in the text, but 
to list them in the appendix, pp. 287-96, where they are briefly sum 
marised. At most, the early works of this character represent but 
the growing interest in biographical study. 


his catalogue of British writers with Samothes Gigas, 
who lived not long after the deluge; and Pits beginning 
with the mythical Brutus. This fantastic element was 
pointed out as far back as 1662 by Thomas Fuller. " Being 
to handle this subject [of writers]," remarks Fuller, " let 
not the reader expect that I will begin their catalogue from 
fabulous antiquity, or rather fanciful fabels. For if the 
first Century of J. Bale or J. Pits their British writers were 
garbled,, four parts oijive would be found to be trash, such 

1. Samothes Gigas 

2. Magus Samotheus 

3. Sarron Magius 

4. Druys Sarronius 

5. Barbus Druydius 

6. Albion Mareoticus 

7. Brytus Julius 

8. Gerion Augur 

9. Aquila Septonius 

10. Perdix Prasagus 

11. Cambra Formosa 

12. Plenidius Sagax, etc. 

Of these some never were men, others (if men) never were 
writers, others (if writers) never left works continuing to 
our age, though some manuscript-mongers may make as 
if they had perused them. It is well they had so much 
modesty as not to pretend inspection into the Book of life, 
seeing all other books have come under their omnividencu" 1 
These early compilers had few scruples about borrowing 
from predecessors without giving credit to the sources, or 
about adapting information in any way to suit their pur 
poses. Fuller again, in his humorous manner, calls attention 
to this fact in a famous parallelism which well embodies the 
characteristics of the three worthies whom he mentions. 
It is in the notice of Pits that Fuller speaks out, saying 
that " he [Pits] wrote many volumes of several subjects, 
one of the Apostolical men, another of the kings and 
bishops in England, but because he survived not to see 
them set forth, he was as good as his word, mecum 
morientur & sepelientur, with him they died and were 
buried; onely that his book is brought to light which is 

1 History of the Worthies of England, chap. x. p. 26 (ed. 1662). 


intituled, de Illustribus Angliae Scriptoribus, a subject 
formerly handled by many, so that some stick not to say: 

J. Leland is the industrious BEE working ~\ 

J. Bale is the angry WASP stinging I all." * 

J. Pits is the idle DRONE stealing 

These antiquarians cannot be entirely ignored in a discus- 
lion of English biography, however, if for no other reason 
than that of the pernicious influence which they exerted 
on those who followed them, copied their inaccuracies, mis- 
statements, false inferences, and fanciful imaginings, and 
thus perpetuated these errors even to modern times. In 
his exhaustive Studies in Chaucer,* Professor Thomas R. 
Lounsbury treats at length of the influence of these three 
men on Chaucerian scholarship, an influence which con 
tinued until long past the time of Samuel Johnson. What 
Professor Lounsbury has demonstrated to be true of 
biographical notices of Chaucer well down into the nine 
teenth century, could without doubt be proved, to a 
greater or less degree, of most English biography to the time 
of James Boswell. 

And yet the work of these early antiquarians even 
of Boston, Leland, Bale, and Pits is not entirely without 
yalue. The gaps in English biography not to speak of 
those in the early history of Great Britain are numerous 
enough and wide enough as it is. The destruction wrought 
by the incursions of the Danes and attendant upon the 
Norman Conquest blotted out much that we should like 
to know. In the sixteenth century, the dissolution, from 

1 History of the Worthies of England, " Hant-shire," p. 14. 

1 No student should fail to read the first two chapters of vol. i. 
Professor Lounsbury is severe in his criticism of those who attempted 
early notices of Chaucer, yet his severity is apparently justified. 
These two chapters are also valuable to those interested in methods 
of biography. 


1537 to 1539, of the greater monasteries, followed in 1545 by 
the seizure of all other religious foundations, helped to blot 
out much of what little remained in the way of historical 
and literary documents. That we know as much as we do 
of the early literary history of Great Britain is due in 
no small part to these unscholarly, uncritical, credulous 
antiquarians and compilers. It is something to their credit 
that they recognised and bewailed the carelessness of the 
times. 1 All this is said with due regard to the worthlessness 
of much of their work. There is, moreover, it cannot be 
denied, a certain satisfaction in having only an echo of 
what may be an historic truth. 2 And how much of scholarly 
research and disputation might have been done away with 
had these pioneers been scrupulously exact ! 

Thomas Fuller (1608-1661) edited the first biographical 
volume published in the English language (1651), a work 
bearing the title of Abel Redevivus : or the dead yet speaking ; 
The Lives and Deaths of the Moderne Divines. This book is 
little more than hack-work " digested into one volume for 

1 Thus John Bale in his Dedication of Leyland's Laboryouse 
Journey, etc., to Edward VI., 1549 : " Among all the nacions in 
whome I have wandered for the knowledge of thynges (most benygne 
souerayne) I have found nene so negligent and untoward, as I have 
found England in the due serch of theyr auncyent historyes, to the 
syngulare fame and bewtye thereof. Thys haue I (as it were) wyth 
a wofulnesse of hert sense my tendre youth bewayled. ... If your 
most noble father of excellent memory, Kynge Henry the viii had 
not of a godly zele, by specyall Commyssyon, directed maystre 
Johan Leylande, to ouersee a nombre of theyre sayde libraries, we 
had lost infynyte treasure of knowledge, by the spoyle, which anon 
afterfolowedof their due suppression." Centuries before this, Nennius, 
in the introduction to the History of the Britons, lamented thus : 
" I, Nennius, disciple of St. Elbotus, have endeavoured to write 
some extracts which the dulness of the British nation had cast 
away, because teachers had no knowledge, nor gave any informa 
tion in their books about the island of Britain." 

a As for example : " Then it was, that the magnanimous Arthur, 
with all the kings and military force of Britain, fought against the 
Saxons. And though there were many more noble than himself, 
yet he was twelve times chosen their commander, and was as often 
conqueror." Nennius, History of the Britons. 


the benefit and satisfaction of all those that desire to be 
acquainted with the paths of piety and virtue," as the title 
page further informs the reader. The manner in which the 
somewhat more than one hundred sketches were put 
together is thus described by Fuller in " The Epistle to the 
Reader " : " As for the makers thereof, they are many : 
some done by Doctor Featly, now at rest with God, viz., 
The lives of Jewell, Reynolds, Abbot, and diverse others. 
Some by that reverend and learned Divine Master Gataker, 
viz., The lives of Peter Martyr, Bale, Whitgift, Ridley, 
Whitaker, Parker, and others. Doctor Willets life by 
Doctor Smith, his son-in-law. Erasmus his life by the 
reverend Bishop of Kilmore. The life of Bishop Andrewes, 
by the judicious and industrious, my worthy friend 
Master Isaackson: and my meanness wrote all the lives of 
Berengarius, Hus, Hierom of Prague, Archbishop Cranmer, 
Master Fox, Perkins, Junius, etc. Save the. most part of the 
poetry was done by Master Quarles, father and son, suffi 
ciently known for their abilities therein. The rest the 
stationer got transcribed out of Mr. Holland and other 
authors." The poetry to which reference is made consists 
of a summary appended to each sketch. As the first 
biographical collection in English, the book is worthy of 
remembrance; it has, in addition, an intrinsic value of its 
own. It is worth the while of any reader to turn to these 
sketches. They are not dull; on the contrary, they are full 
of interest; they are rabidly partisan; they are glowing 
with honest praise or hot indignation; they are full of 
unconscious humour. The volume, even though not 
entirely the work of Fuller, was no unfit forerunner of his 
later biographical collection, The History of the Worthies 
of England. 

'The History of the Worthies was published in 1662. " The 
matter of this work, for the most part," wrote John Fuller, 


the author's son, in the dedication, " is the description of 
such native and peculiar commodities as the several counties 
of your Kingdom [the volume was dedicated to Charles II.] 
afford, with a revival of the memories of such persons which 
have in each county been eminent for parts or learning." 
William Oldys speaks somewhat contemptuously of the 
biographical portion: " [Fuller's] Lives are in effect no 
more than short characters, interspersed now and then 
with remarkable stories which are not always to be de 
pended upon, and there is very little new in him: Bale, 
Fox, and Stowe are his principal authors, from whom he 
takes plentifully ... a fanciful, rather than a faithful 
writer, very little concerned about dates or circumstances, 
and, if one might be indulged for once in his manner of 
speaking, rather desirous of making his readers merry than 
wise." l We may, indeed, agree entirely with the last 
statement; Fuller had set before himself as one of his 
objects in writing, " to entertain the reader with delight." 
" I confess," he writes, " the subject is but dull in itself, 
to tell the time and place of men's birth, and deaths, their 
names, with the names and number of their books, and 
therefore this bare sceleton of Time, Place, and Person, 
must be fleshed with some pleasant passages. To this 
intent I have purposely interlaced (not as meat, but as 
condiment) many delightful stories, that so the reader if 
he do not arise (which I hope and desire) Religiosior or 
Doctior, with more piety or learning, at least he may depart 
Jucundior, with more pleasure and lawful delight." * 
Fuller's Worthies is one of the most humorous books ever 
written ; one is richly rewarded for dipping into almost any 
page. The volume was not put together after any scientific 
method of research; it belongs to the " old school "; but 
it preserves a vast amount of information expressed in an 
1 In Preface to Biographia Britannica. * Worthies, p. 2. 


original manner. The literature of biography would suffer 
a great loss were it deprived of the Worthies. 

Fuller is " very little concerned about dates or circum 
stances," remarks Oldys, and the remark is just; he took 
all too little pains in these particulars. " But," writes 
Oldys elsewhere in the Biographia Britannica, in a vein not 
unworthy of Fuller himself, " though he looked upon dates 
as so many little sparkling gems in history, that would 
reflect the clearest and most sudden light a great ways off, 
he still found or thought them very slippery ware, liable, 
by the smallest and most imperceptible variations, to lead 
us greatly astray from truth; and speaks of chronology in 
one of his books, as of a very surly little animal, that was 
apt to bite the fingers of those who handle it with greater 
familiarity than was absolutely necessary; yet he knew 
there was no giving any satisfactory intelligence without it, 
especially in the writing of lives. But it was a general or 
fashionable neglect especially in the more polite and ornate 
writers, as if they thought that arithmetical figures would 
look like so many scars in the sleek face of their rhetorical 
phrase." 1 In 1811, when John Nichols edited an edition 
of Fuller's Worthies, he added this note at the point where 
he supplied the date of Shakespeare's death: " It is a little 
remarkable that Dr. Fuller should not have been able to 
have filled up this blank; which I should have done silently 
(as I have done in numberless other instances) but that I 
think it right to notice how little was then known of the 
personal history of the Sweet Swan of Avon, who died 
April 23., 1616." The omission of this date by Fuller is a 
sufficient comment upon both the state of knowledge during 
the century and the methods of biographical compilers. 

Fuller's biographical works were followed by many others 
written in English on a somewhat similar plan. Of these 
1 Article " Fuller," vol. iii. pp. 2049-69. 


we can do little more than make brief mention. In 1675, 
Edward Phillips, Milton's nephew, published Ibeatrum 
Poetarum, brief sketches of ancient and modern poets. 
William Winstanley's Lives of English Poets followed in 
1687. Anthony Wood's great work, the Aihenae Oxonienses, 
" an exact history of all the writers and bishops who 
have had their education in ... Oxford . . ." appeared in 
1690-92. In 1691 was printed Gerard Langbaine's English 
Dramatic Poets, of which work a continuation and doubtful 
" improvement " was set forth by Charles Gildon in 1698. 
The seventeenth century likewise produced a remarkably 
large number of " Characters," or brief sketches after the 
manner of those written by Theophrastus. In the hands of 
such men as Ben Jonson, Joseph Hall, Sir Thomas Over- 
bury, and John Earle the character-sketch was assiduously 
cultivated, becoming in fact one of the most distinctive 
and prolific literary forms of the century. Earle's Micro- 
cosmography (1628), one of the most popular collections of 
such sketches, apparently passed through five editions in 
the first two years of its publication, and five more during 
the life-time of its author. Dr. Philip Bliss, who in 1811 
edited an edition of Earle's work, added a list of fifty-seven 
characters and books of characters, all of which, with one 
exception in 1567, were published between 1605-1700. In 
1855, Doctor Bliss stated that this list in his own inter 
leaved copy had grown four-fold. Various explanations of 
the popularity of this form have been given. It has been 
pointed out for us that " the literature of Protestant 
England passed, about the time of James I., from the 
exuberant delicious fancifulness of youth into the sober de- 
liberativeness of manhood. The age of romantic chivalry, of 
daring discovery, of surpassing danger, was passing away. 
A time of wonderful thoughtfulness, of strong research, of 
national quiet had come. Learning had become common to 


most educated persons. . . . The thinkers influenced the 
people. The words Precisian and Puritan, creations of this 
epoch, testify to the growing seriousness of the nation. In 
those earlier years of Puritanism especially, and generally 
throughout the seventeenth century, there was a strong 
passion for analysis of human character. Men delighted in 
introspection. Essays and characters took the place of the 
romance of the former century." l In the opinion of Pro 
fessor Hugh Walker, " if ever we are entitled to speak of a 
literary form as answering to something in the spirit of the 
age wherein it appears, we are so entitled in the case of the 
character- writers. For they are precisely the prose analogue 
of the metaphysical poets. They have the same merits 
and defects, they show the same interests, and they rise, 
flourish, and decline just at the same time." 2 

The character-sketches were, without doubt, one mani 
festation of the spirit which was aiding in the evolution of 
biography. They were, however, but a passing phase of the 
spirit, and contributed inappreciably, if at all, to the 
development of biography. The distinction between the 
character-sketch and biography has been well emphasised: 
" In order to establish the claim of the Characters to be 
considered as a unique production, it is perhaps necessary 
to point out that they in no way resemble the ordinary 
biographies of history. These, of course, have reference to 
definite individuals, and must of necessity exhibit personal 
peculiarities, which can only belong to the subject of the 
intended portraiture. The present sketches [those of 
Theophrastus], on the contrary, are generic, not individual; 
they represent classes, not particular persons; they are 
imaginary, not real." 3 Another writer remarks that 

1 Arber's English Reprints, Earle's Micro-cosmographie, pp. 7-8. 
1 See all of chap. iii. of Professor Walker's admirable volume, 
The English Essay and Essayists. 

' John G. Sheppard, Theophrasti Characters, pp. 5-6. 


" Characters deal with the passing, external, accidental 
aspects of men," and points out that of Earle's sketches, 
some are " delineations of human nature, common to all 
time; others are incisive descriptions of ' characters ' and 
scenes of the writer's age, which have now passed away." * 
We cannot dismiss the character-sketch, however, without 
calling attention to the manner in which it eventually 
developed relations to both biography and fiction. " The 
type of sketch set by Jonson and Overbury," writes Pro 
fessor W. L. Cross, " was a good deal modified by the fifty 
and more character -writers who succeeded them. Not 
infrequently as a frame to the portrait was added a little 
piece of biography or adventure. . . . The treatment of 
the character sketch by Steele and Addison in the Spectator 
(171 1-12) was highly original. They drew portraits of repre 
sentative Englishmen, and brought them together in con 
versation in a London Club. They conducted Sir Roger 
de Coverley through Westminster Abbey, to the play-house, 
to Vauxhall, into the country to Coverley and the assizes; 
they incidentally took a retrospective view of his life, and 
finally told the story of his death. When they had done 
this, they had not only created one of the best defined 
characters in our prose literature, but they had almost 
transformed the character-sketch into a novel of London 
and commercial life." * 

The biographical collections, which were so characteristic 
of the seventeenth century, stimulated the production of 
many similar " dictionaries " in the eighteenth century. 
Although the inclusion of these later works exceeds the 
date limits of this chapter, logically mention of them 
belongs here; for in purpose, spirit, and method they are 
at one with their prototypes. Giles Jacob's Poetical 

1 Arber's English Reprints, Earle's Micro-cosmographie, p. 9. 
8 Development of the English Novel, pp. 24-5. 


Register (1719 or 1720); the Biographia Britannic a (1747- 
66); the Lives of the Poets (1753) bearing the name of 
Theophilus Gibber, but for the most part the work of 
Robert Shiels, a Scotchman, one of Johnson's amanuenses 
in the Dictionary work; Horace Walpole's Catalogue of 
Royal and Noble Authors (1758); the Biographical Dictionary 
(1761); David Erskine Baker's Companion to the Play 
house (1764); and Doctor John Berkenhout's Biographia 
Liter aria (1777), make up the contribution of the eigh 
teenth century to this form of biography. Of these works, 
the Biographia Britannica is by far the best; it is the first 
work, indeed, in the English language, which deserves to 
rank as a careful and somewhat complete biographical 
dictionary. It exhibits commendable care in its attempt to 
exhaust all known sources of information. With William 
Oldys as its first editor it could scarcely fail to be in advance 
of its kind. It stands between the old method of careless 
compiling and the new scientific spirit of the nineteenth 
century. At least two literary men read and studied it 
eagerly. Its volumes were the companions of Sir Egerton 
Brydges during his youth; he tells us that he began to 
read them as early as his eighth or ninth year. Macaulay 
wrote that on his voyage to India in 1834 ^ e rea d, among 
other volumes, " the seven thick folios of the Biographia 
Britannica" x 

The work of these industrious compilers is related rather 
to one branch of biographical writing that of dictionaries 
of biography, a branch which has developed and flourished 
extensively during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries 
than to the biography proper, the separate, complete, 
approximately exhaustive account of one person. The 
way of the biographical collection is not the way to the 
production of great life-narrative; especially is this true 
1 Trevelyan's Life of Macaulay, vol. i. p. 371. 


of the way of the old biographical collections. Some 
have expressed regret that Thomas Heywood (1575 ?-i65o), 
the dramatist, did not carry out the design to which he 
refers (p. 245) in the Hierarchy of the Blessed Angels (1635) 
of writing " the lives of all the poets, foreign and modern, 
from the first before Homer to the novissimi and last, of 
what nation or language soever; so far as any history or 
chronology " would give him warrant. His failure to do so 
has undoubtedly left us little the poorer, for in all likelihood 
his work would have been much like those produced later 
by Fuller, Langbaine, Gildon, and Jacob. Indeed, we can 
form some notion of what his work might have been from 
a remark of his in An Apology for Actors (1612). " Here," 
he writes, " I might take opportunity to reckon up all our 
English writers and compare them with the Greek, French, 
Italian, and Latin poets, not only in their pastoral, histori 
cal, elegiacal, and heroical poems, but in their tragical and 
comical subjects, but it was my chance to happen on the 
like learnedly done by an approved good scholar in a book 
called Wifs Commonwealth, to which treatise I wholly 
refer you." We may admit that Heywood might have 
preserved something of worth, but the way of Francis 
Mere's discourse in Palladis Tamia l is not the way to the 
production of a promising biographical collection. The 
labour of most of these antiquarians and compilers from 
Leland to the writers of the Biographia Britannica is marked 
by a confirmed tendency to borrow and adapt blindly from 
predecessors; to hand on information without careful 
investigation; to accept almost any kind of hearsay report. 
It is interesting to follow the sketch of one author as it is 
passed from one of these writers to another; such a com- 

1 Mere's " A Comparative Discourse of our English Poets, with the 
Greek, Latin, and Italian Poets " occurs in Palladis Tamia : Wit's 
Treasury ; Being the Second Part of Wit's Commonwealth, pp. 279-87. 


parison will do much to give a student a conception of the 
value of these primitive methods. 1 

Among these antiquarians and compilers one deserves 
particular mention for his excellent conception of what 
biography should be. It is true that, on account of tempera 
mental reasons, he failed to carry out his notions, and 
served chiefly as a collector of information for a hard and 
ill-natured taskmaster. He had within him, however, the 
promise of better things. John Aubrey (1626-1697) was 
one of those happy-go-lucky individuals who give very 
little attention to their own affairs, yet attempt much to 
oblige their friends; just the kind of man, in fact, who is 
his own worst enemy. Until he had squandered his estate, 
he had been an extensive and eager buyer of books and 
manuscripts. He seems never to have lost his interest in 
literary affairs, particularly in literary gossip. Anthony 
Wood secured his aid in collecting materials for the 
Atbenae Oxonienses, and upon the work done for Wood, 
Aubrey's fame chiefly rests. Aubrey's Brief Lives, as they 
have been termed, are only short and disconnected notes 
collected in any way by reading, from gossip at coffee 
houses and clubs, at the tables of his literary friends. The 
substance of them was incorporated in the different editions 
of the Atbenae Oxonienses (1691-1721), and Aubrey's 
manuscripts were neglected until 1813, when careless 
extracts were published in a collection of Letters Written 
by Eminent Persons, and Lives of Eminent Men by John 
Aubrey " from the originals in the Bodleian Library and 
the Ashmolean Museum." Not until 1898 was Aubrey's 
complete work made accessible to the public in the careful 
edition of the Rev. Andrew Clark. " Aubrey's lives," 

1 In the appendix, pp. 302-10, different sketches of Shakespeare 
are printed for the purpose of such comparison. Professor Lounsbury 
and Eleanor Prescott Hammond, as has been pointed out, have 
followed the course of Chaucer's early biographies. 


remarks Mr. Clark, " supply an inviting field for comment, 
correction, and addition. But, even so treated, they will 
never be a biographical dictionary. Their value lies not in 
statement of bibliographical or other facts, but in their 
remarkably vivid personal touches, in what Aubrey had 
seen himself and what his friends had told him." 1 

Two extracts from letters 2 written by Aubrey to Wood 
give information as to Aubrey's own conception of the work 
he had in hand. Under date of June 15, 1680, he writes: 

" I doe not here repeat anything already published (to the best of 
my remembrance) and I fancy myselfe all along discourseing with 
you; alledgeing those of my relations and acquaintance (as either 
you knew or have heard of) ad faciendum fidem : so that you make 
me to renew my acquaintance with my old and deceased friends, and 
to rejuvenescent (as it were) which is the pleasure of old men. 'Tis 
pitty that such minutes had not been taken 100 yeares since or more: 
for want whereof many worthy men's names and notions are swal- 
lowd-up in oblivion; as much of these also would [have been], had 
it not been through your investigation: and perhaps this is one of 
the usefullest pieces that I have scribbeld." 

" I remember one sayeing of generall Lambert's, that ' the best of 
men are but men at the best ' : of this you will meet with divers 
examples in this rude and hastie collection. Now these arcana are 
not fitt to lett flie abroad, till about 30 yeares hence; for the author 
and the persons (like medlars) ought to be first rotten." 

On September 8, 1680, he wrote further: "My book of 
lives . . . they will be in all about six-score, and I beleeve 
never any in England were delivered so faithfully and with 
so good authority." 

It becomes evident that Aubrey recognised the value of 
a number of truths in regard to biography which are now 
accepted. He believed that to be at its best biography 
should be the work of a contemporary; that it should 
contain the personal element " faithfully and authorita 
tively delivered "; that it should not be panegyric, making 

1 Aubrey's " Brief Lives" edited by Andrew Clark, vol. i. pp. 7-8. 
1 Quoted by Mr. Clark in Ibid. vol. i. pp. 11-12 and 3, respectively. 


man like unto a divinity; and that it should be written 
in an interesting way, approaching nearer to conversation 
than to dry and formal discourse. Since he was dissipated 
and unable to bring himself to the completion of any 
extensive connected literary work, his notions remained 
embryonic. It is not difficult to imagine, however, that, 
given a little more self-control and tenacity of purpose, a 
little more of ability and judgment, Aubrey might have 
come nearer to producing a genuine biography than any 
man living before Boswell. Such imaginings, though, are 
futile. It is wiser to conclude that the time for Boswell was 
not yet; that when Boswell did arrive, he was the careful 
student of those who before him had written biography, as 
well as the fortunate worker who produced a type of the 
true method for which all had been striving. It is not to be 
questioned that Aubrey understood thekind of material that 
should make up a biography, and that he, more than any one 
else up to this time, foreshadowed Johnson and Boswell. 

During the period that the compilers of Latin biographical 
collections were flourishing, there were set forth, apparently 
unconnected with any of the works heretofore mentioned, 
two narratives which may be considered a beginning de 
novo, the actual dawn of separate, authentic biography 
composed in the English language. Some time before the 
close of Mary's reign in 1558, William Roper, the son-in- 
law of Sir Thomas More, sat down to commit to writing 
what he could remember and gather from friends in regard 
to the distinguished and unfortunate English Chancellor. 
About 1557, George Cavendish, gentleman-usher to Car 
dinal Wolsey, likewise wrote down what he knew of his 
unfortunate master. \Both men were in a position to write 
effective and important narratives; both had great 
subjects for the display of their biographic skill. 

Roper states his reason for writing in these words: 


" Forasmuch as Sir Thomas More, Knight . . . was in his 
days accounted a man worthy perpetual famous memory, 
I William Roper (though most unworthy) his son-in-law 
by marriage of his eldest daughter, knowing, no one man 
that of him and of his doings understood so much as myself, 
for that I was continually resident in his house by the space 
of sixteen years and more, thought it therefore my part to 
set forth such matters touching his life as I could at this 
present call to remembrance, among which things very 
many notable, not meet to have been forgotten, through 
negligence and long continuance of time are slipped out of 
my mind. Yet to the intent that the same should not 
all utterly perish, I have at the desire of divers worship 
ful friends of mine, though very far from the grace and 
worthiness of him, nevertheless, as far forth as my mean 
wit, memory, and know^dge would serve me, declared as 
much thereof as in my poor judgment seemed worthy to 
be remembered." 1 The Life begins abruptly, as if the first 
part had been lost. The order is the rambling method of 
loose reminiscence; there is nothing of coherent arrange- 
ment in the modern sense: in these aspects, however, the 
work is similar to most historical composition of the time. 
The author refers a to letters, but does not quote them. 
He is likewise careful to give his authorities for any informa 
tion which he obtained through others. 3 The narrative is 

1 Edition, Singer, 1822, pp. 1-2. 

" Now at his coming to Lambeth, how wisely he behaved himself 
before the commissioners at the ministration of the oath unto him, 
may be found in certain letters of his sent to my wife remaining in a 
great book of his works." Ibid. p. 70. 

3 " Thus much touching Sir Thomas More's arraignment, being 
not there present myself, have I by the credible report of the Right 
Worshipful Sir Anthony Saintleger, and partly of Richard Haywood, 
and John Webb, gentlemen, with others of good credit at the hearing 
thereof present themselves, as far forth as my poor wit and memory 
would serve me, here truly rehearsed unto you." Ibid. p. 89. And 
also: " Which matter was by the same Sir Thomas Eliott to myself. 


brief and incomplete, and of course contains inaccuracies; 
yet the stately simplicity of the style, the pathetic reserve 
of the writer, and the atmosphere of truth pervading all, 
make it intensely interesting and mark it as a work of 
great value. 

Cavendish's Life of Cardinal Wolsey is longer and more 
elaborate than the More, yet otherwise much similar to the 
work of Roper. Cavendish begins, as does Roper, with a 
statement of his reasons for writing: " The occasion there 
fore that maketh me to rehearse all these things is this; 
for as much as I intend, God willing, to write here some 
part of the proceedings of Legate and Cardinal Wolsey, 
Archbishop of York, and of his ascending and descending 
from honourous estate; whereof some part shall be of 
mine own knowledge, and some of other person's informa 
tion. Forsooth this Cardinal was my lord and master, 
whom in his life I served and so remained with him, after 
his fall, continually, during the term of all his trouble, until 
he died; as well in the south as in the north parts, and 
noted all his demeanour and usage in all that time; as also 
in his wealthy triumph and glorious estate. And since his 
death I have heard diverse sundry surmises and imagined 
tales, made of his proceedings and doings, which I myself 
have perfectly known to be most untrue. . . . Therefore 
I commit the truth to Him who knoweth all things. For, 
whatsoever any man hath conceived in him when he lived, 
or since his death, this much I dare be bold to say . . . that 
in my judgment I never saw this realm in better order, 
quietness, and obedience, than it was in the time of his 
authority and rule, ne justice better administered with 
indifferency." 1 Cavendish succeeded in writing a truly 

to my wife, to Master Clement and his wife, to Master John Hay- 
wood and his wife, and unto divers others his friends accordingly 
reported." Ibid. p. 95. 

1 Life of Cardinal Wolsey, Edition, Singer, 1825, vol. i. pp. 2-3. 


masterful narrative; very far, to be sure, from accurate >/ 
and scientific biography, yet, for all that, a record that 
holds the attention and leaves the reader with a vivid 
impression of the great Cardinal. " It is," observes Singer, 
" a work without pretension, but full of natural eloquence, 
devoid of the formality of a set rhetorical composition, 
unspoiled by the affectation of that classical manner in 
which all biography and history of old time was prescribed 
to be written, and which often divests such records of the 
attraction to be found in the conversational stvle of 
Cavendish. There is an unspeakablecharm in the naivete 
of his language his occasional appeals to his reader and 
the dramatic form of his narration, in which he gives the 
very words of the interlocutors, and a lively picture of their 
actions, making us as it were spectators of the scenes he 
described. Indeed, our great poet has literally followed him 
in several passages of his King Henry Fill., merely putting 
his language into verse." 1 

Cavendish " imparts to his pages, " writes Charles 
Whibley, " a sense of reality which only a partaker of 
Wolsey's fortunes could impart. But he was not a Boswell, 
attempting to produce a large effect by a multiplicity of 
details. His book has a definite plan and purpose. Con- 
sciously or unconsciously, Cavendish was an artist. His 
theme is the theme of many a Greek tragedy, and he 
handles it with Greek austerity. He sets out to show how 
Nemesis descends upon the haughty and overbold, how 
the mighty are suddenly cast down from their seats, how 
the hair-shirt lurks ever beneath the scarlet robes of the 
cardinal. This is the confessed end and aim of his work. 
He is not compiling a * life and times.' He discards as 
irrelevant many events which seem important in the eye 
of history. The famous words which he puts in the mouth 
1 Life of Wolsey, vol. i. p. xi. 


of Wolsey dying might serve as a text for the whole work: 
* If I had served God as diligently as I have done the king, 
he would not have given me over in my grey hairs.' " 1 

It is interesting to observe that Cavendish had an 
excellent conception of certain duties of a biographer. 
Not only does he treat of Cardinal Wolsey's life from birth 
to death, with greatest emphasis upon the political part of 
his life; he also shows an appreciation of the difference 
between biographical and historical narration, as well as 
of the connexion between the two. 2 It is, however, of the 
moralising element that the reader carries away from the 
Life the most vivid impressions. With however much of 
" honest indignation " Cavendish sat down " to vindicate 
Cardinal Wolsey from slander," he did not allow his 
indignation to blind him to the Cardinal's faults; but as a 
moralist Cavendish stood forth openly. The element runs 
through the Life from beginning to end, 8 the closing para 
graph proceeding in this way : 

" Who list to read and consider, with an indifferent eye, this 
history, may behold the wondrous mutability; the uncertainty of 
dignities, the flattering of feigned friends, and the tickle trust to 
worldly princes. Whereof this lord cardinal hath felt both of the 
sweet and the sour in each degree; as fleeting from honours, losing of 
riches, deposed from dignities, forsaken of friends, and the incon- 
stantness of princes' favour; of all which things he hath had in this 

1 Cambridge History of English Literature, vol. iii. p. 336. 

* Thus: " I omit and leave the circumstances thereof to historio 
graphers of chronicles of princes, the which is no part of mine intend- 
ment." Singer's Wolsey, p. 17. Also: " I have written thus this 
history [of the siege of Pavia, etc.] at large because it was thought 
that the Cardinal gave the chief occasion for all this mischief." 
Ibid. p. 80. 

8 These samples may suffice: " Now may this be a good example 
and precedent to men in authority . . . how authority may decay." 
Edition, Singer, 1825, p. 7. " Here may all men note the chances of 
fortune" (p. 15). " . . . but to what end she [Fortune] brought him, 
ye shall hear after " (p. 20). " Until Fortune began to wax something 
wroth with his prosperous estate" (p. 55). " But ye may see when 
fortune beginneth to lower " (p. 66). 



world the full felicity, as long as fortune smiled upon him : but when 
she began to frown, how soon was he deprived of all those dreaming 
joys and vain pleasures. The which in twenty years with great 
travail, study, and pains, obtained, were in one year and less, with 
heaviness, care, and sorrow, lost and consumed. O madness! O 
foolish desire ! O fond hope ! O greedy desire of vain honours, digni 
ties and riches ! O what inconstant trust and assurance is in rolling 
fortune ! Wherefore the prophet said full well Thesaurizat, et 
ignorat, cui congregabit ea. Who is certain to whom he shall leave his 
treasure and his riches that he hath gathered together in this world, 
it may chance him to leave it unto such as he hath purposed ? but 
the wise man saith, That another person, who peradventure he hated in 
his life, shall spend it out and consume it." l 

Whatever influence these two narratives might have had 
upon the general development of biography was prevented 
by the fact that for many years they were circulated only 
in manuscript. Both were strongly Catholic in spirit, and 
of course had to await favourable moments for publication. 
The first edition of The Mirror of Vertue in Worldly Great 
ness : or, the Life of Sir Thomas More has on the title-page 
the date of Paris, 1626, although Singer suggests that it 
was probably printed in England. 2 Likewise, Cavendish's 
Life of Wolsey remained in manuscript until 1641, when 
it was first published in mutilated form for party purposes. 3 
Not until 1893, when the Kelmscott edition was printed 

1 Singer's Wolsey, vol. i. pp. 335-6. 

1 " It was then not uncommon for books which favoured Catholic 
doctrines to have a foreign imprint, even when not printed abroad." 
Singer's Move (1822), p. vi. " It has been remarked by Hunter that 
More's life and works have been all along manipulated for political 
purposes, and in the interest of the Holy See." Encyclopedia 
Britannica, Article " Sir Thomas More." A consideration of the 
different lives of More in chronological order makes an interesting 
study in biography. 

3 From a letter in the Bodleian Library written by Edmund 
Mai one to Francis Douce (Nov. 24, 1809), I quote the following: 
" The first edition of the Life of Wolsey (4to. 1641) is before me, and 
is entitled the ' Negotiations of T. W., etc.' The second edition 
(in 1667) is called ' The Life and Death, etc.' and the third in 1706 
is entitled ' Memoirs of the great favourite Cardinal Wolsey, etc.' 
They are all basely sophisticated and interpolated, originally in 


by William Morris from F. S. Ellis' transcript of the 
autograph copy in the British Museum, did the public 
have access to the book in the original text. The long delay 
in the publication of these works retarded the development 
of biography proper for almost a century, and the limited 
circulation of the books when first published retarded it 
still longer. 

Not long after Roper and Cavendish had written their 
narratives, Francis Bacon in his Advancement of Learning 
(1605) lamented the scarcity of " lives " in these words: 

" For ' Lives,' I do find strange that these times have so little 
esteemed the virtues of the times, as that the writing of lives be no 
more frequent. For although there be not many sovereign princes 
or absolute commanders, and that states are most collected into 
monarchies, yet are there many worthy personages that deserve 
better than dispersed report or barren eulogies. For herein the 
invention of one of the late poets is proper, and doth well enrich the 
ancient fiction : for he f eigneth that at the end of the thread or web 
of every man's life there was a little medal containing the person's 
name, and that Time waited upon the shears; and as soon as the 
thread was cut, caught the medals, and carried them to the river of 
Lethe; and about the bank there were many birds flying up and 
down, that would get the medals and carry them in their beak a 
little while, and then let them fall into the river: only there were a 
few swans which if they got a name would carry it to a temple where 
it was consecrated." l 

Bacon, it will be remembered, in this same work, divides 
History into three kinds; viz., that which represents a time, 
or a person, or an action. To the first he gave the name 
of Chronicles; to the second, Lives; to the third, Narra 
tions or Relations. Notwithstanding the fact that he had 
not come to a conception of biography as a form of litera- 

1641 for the purpose of raising a clamour against the dignitaries of 
the Church, and thus obliquely wounding Archbishop Laud." For 
interesting discussion of the history of Cavendish's work, see Singer's 
Life of Wolsey (1825), vol. ii. pp. xiii-lxxii. See also Introduction to 
Storer's Metrical Life of Wolsey, Oxford, 1826. 
1 Edition, William Pickering, 1825, pp. 132-3. 


ture dissociated from history, he yet made some valuable 
observations and pointed the way for the future. In con 
sidering the three divisions, he wrote thus : " Of these, 
although the first be the most complete and absolute kind 
of history, and hath most estimation and glory, yet the 
second excelleth it in profit and use, and the third in verity 
and sincerity: for history of times representeth the magni 
tude of actions, and the public faces and deportments of 
persons, and passeth over in silence the smaller passages 
and motions of men and matters. . . . But Lives, if they be 
well written, propounding to themselves a person to repre 
sent, in whom actions both greater and smaller, public and 
private, have a commixture, must of necessity contain a 
more true, native, and lively representation." 1 Bacon was 
familiar with Plutarch's Lives, which a short time before 
(1579) became accessible to Englishmen through North's 
translation. The work of Plutarch no doubt set him to 
thinking and caused him to wish that a similar work might 
be produced in England. The confounding of history and 
biography, however, prevented any rapid or marked develop 
ment of the latter. Writing almost eighty years later John 
Dryden exhibits much the same conception of biography as 
does Bacon, and, like Bacon, continues to consider it as only 
a branch of history. Dr. White Kennet's History of England, 
published in 1706, consists of a series of lives by different 
authors, and well illustrates the habit of making biographical 
narrative serve the purposes of history. 2 It was reserved 
for the eighteenth century to free biography from the 
trammels of history proper. 

1 Edition, Pickering, 1825, pp. 127-8. 

8 Such representative works from the History of England may be 
taken as examples : The Lives of King Edward V. and Richard III. 
by Sir Thomas More ; The Life of King Henry VII. by Lord Bacon ; 
The Life of King Edward VI. by Sir John Hayward; The History of 
Queen Elizabeth by William Cambden; and The History and Life of 
King Charles I. (anonymous). 


We come now to charming old Izaak Walton, the first to 
take in hand the writing of deliberate biography. As he 
frequently tells us, circumstances forced him to take up the 
biographer's pen; and, with sweet humility, he again and 
again expresses the wish that in doing so he " has pre 
vented no abler person " from undertaking the task. Five 
biographical sketches three of his own intimate friends, 
and two of those not personally known to him make up the 
sum of his contribution. His first work was the Life of 
Doctor Donne, prefixed to the first collection of Donne's 
sermons in 1640. In the introduction to the Life, Walton 
tells us that when he heard that the sermons of his friend 
were to be printed without the author's life, " indignation 
or grief indeed I know not which transported me so far, 
that I reviewed my forsaken collections [notes made for 
Sir Henry Wotton, who had contemplated writing a life 
of Donne], and resolved the world should see the best plain 
picture of the author's life, that my artless pencil, guided 
by the hand of truth, could present to it." l 

Eleven years later in 1651 he turned once again to 
biography, this time writing the Life of his friend Sir Henry 
Wotton. In 1665 appeared the Life of Richard Hooker, and 
in 1670 the Life of George Herbert, neither of whom Walton 
knew personally. Walton was now an old man he was 
seventy in 1663 and thus three of the five biographies are 
the products of his old age. The labour of collecting 
material and of composing bore heavily upon him at times, 
and especially during his work upon the Life of his old 
friend Dr. Robert Sanderson, which appeared in 1678, in the 
author's eighty-fifth year. Nothing could be more delightful 
than the introduction to the Life of George Herbert, in which 
Walton records how in " a late retreat from the business of 
this world, and those many little cares with which he had 
1 Major's Edition of the Lives (1825), p. i. 


too often encumbered himself, he fell into a contemplation 
of some of those historic passages that are recorded in sacred 
story: and more particularly of what had passed between 
our blessed Saviour, and that wonder of women and sinners, 
and mourners, Saint Mary Magdalene." This contemplation 
led him to a consideration of the fact that Mary's free 
offerings had won for her record and mention " wheresoever 
his Gospel should be read, so that her name should live to 
succeeding generations, even till time itself shall be no 
more." " Upon occasion of which fair example," writes 
Walton, " I did lately look back, and not without some 
content at least to myself that I have endeavoured to 
deserve the love, and preserve the memory, of my two 
deceased friends, Dr. Donne and Sir Henry Wotton, by 
declaring the several employments and various accidents of 
their lives. And though Mr. George Herbert whose life I 
now intend to write were to me a stranger as to his person, 
for I have only seen him: yet since he was, and was 
worthy to be, their friend, and very many of his have been 
mine, I judge it may not be unacceptable to those that knew 
any of them in their lives, or do now know them by mine, or 
their own writings, to see this conjunction of them after 
their deaths; without which, many things that concerned 
them, and some things that concerned the age in which they 
lived, would be less perfect, and lost to posterity." * A 
dozen years later, Mary's experience was yet running in his 
mind, for in the preface to the Life of Dr. Sanderson he says: 
" For it may be noted that our Saviour hath had such care, 
that, for Mary Magdalene's kindness to him, her name 
should never be forgotten: and doubtless Dr. Sanderson's 
meek and innocent life, his great and useful learning, might 
therefore challenge the like endeavours to preserve his 
memory : and 'tis to me a wonder that it has been already 
1 Lives (1825), p. 272. 


fifteen years neglected. But in saying this my meaning is not 
to upbraid others I am far from that but excuse myself, 
or beg pardon for daring to attempt it. ... And though 
my age might have procured me a Writ of Ease, and that 
secured me from all further trouble in this kind; yet I met 
with such persuasion to begin, and so many willing in 
formers since, and from them and others, such helps and 
encouragements to proceed, that when I found myself 
faint, and weary of the burthen with which I had loaden 
myself, and ready to lay it down; yet time and new strength 
hath at last brought it to be what it now is." l Walton 
closed the Life of Dr. Sanderson, and his own biographical 
labours, with these words : " 'Tis now too late to wish that 
my life may be like his: for I am in the eighty-fifth year 
of my age: but I humbly beseech Almighty God that my 
death may; and do as earnestly beg of every reader, to 
say Amen." 

Walton was a pioneer in biographical work, and as a 
pioneer he proceeded. " The five short lives which he 
published, though pale by the -side of such work in bio 
graphy as the end of the eighteenth century introduced, 
are yet notable as among the earliest which aim at giving 
us a vivid portrait of the man, instead of a discreet and 
conventional testimonial." 2 Nothing at all similar to his 
Lives had been produced in English before his time, save 
Roper's More and Cavendish's Wolsey, and these he may 
never have seen; they are not included in the list of books 
with which he was familiar. 8 His work is his own and shows 
little dependence on the method of any other writer of 
biography. He does not say whether he was influenced in 
his order of proceeding by any author; he was acquainted 
with Plutarch's Lives which he mentions not only in the 

1 Lives (1825), pp. 352-3. 

1 Edmund Gosse, in Craik's English Prose, vol. ii. p. 341. 

Given in Major's Lives, pp. 443-6. 


five biographical sketches, but also in The Compleat Angler. 
A careful reader can discern in his method of making 
digressions, as well as in his method of making transitions, 
the influence of Plutarch; yet the influence is but a faint 
shadow. For example, in the Life of Donne, Walton, after 
telling the story of Donne's vision of his wife and child, 
proceeds very much in the manner of Plutarch: " This is a 
relation that will beget some wonder, and it well may . . . 
yet many will not believe there is any such thing as a 
sympathy of souls; and I am well pleased that every 
reader do enjoy his own opinion. But if the unbelieving 
will not allow the believing reader of this story a liberty to 
believe that it may be true, then I wish him to consider, 
many wise men have believed that the ghost of Julius 
Caesar did appear to Brutus, and that both St. Austin, and 
Monica his mother, had visions in order to his conversion 
. . . the incredible reader may find in the sacred story 
that Samuel did appear to Saul even after his death . . . 
and Bildad, in the book of Job, says these words : ' A 
spirit passed before my face; the hair of my head stood 
up; fear and trembling came upon me, and made all my 
bones to shake.' Upon which words I will make no com 
ment, but leave them to be considered by the incredulous 
reader. . . ." 1 Walton was thoroughly steeped in the 
Scriptures and the writings of the Church Fathers, and in 
all his works makes numerous references to both. 

1 In Major's Lives, pp. 25-6. With this passage it is interesting to 
compare one from Plutarch: " And so if any credit may be given 
to these instances, why should we judge it incongruous that a like 
spirit of the gods should visit Zaleucus, Minos, Zoroaster, Lycur- 
gus, and Numa, the controllers of kingdoms and the legislators for 
commonwealths? Nay, it may be reasonable to believe, that the 
gods, with a serious purpose, assist at the councils and serious 
debates of such men, to inspire and direct them; and visit poets 
and musicians, if at all, in their more sportive moods; but for 
difference of opinion here, as Bacchylides said, ' the road is broad.' " 
Plutarch's Lives, Everyman's Library, vol. i. p. 95. 


It could not be otherwise than that the Lives, under 
taken as they were in such a period and by such a man as 
Walton, should follow the old-fashioned plan of taking 
what could be had easily: from his own memory, from 
accounts given by friends and relatives, from such docu 
ments as came readily to hand. There is in them nothing of 
the careful research method of later times. A limited use 
of letters and wills is made Mr. Gosse suggests that to 
Walton " we owe the idea of illustrating and developing 
biography by means of correspondence " these being 
inserted wherever came most convenient; it is Walton's 
custom usually to append poetical tributes and illustrative 
documents. There is evident throughout the five sketches 
an appreciation of the personal anecdote which throws 
light on individual qualities. There is, also, especially in 
the Life of Wotton, a union of history with biography, and 
a care for the subordination of the historical narrative. 

It is noticeable that the five sketches deal with men 
prominent in Church and State. 1 As yet, no man who 
devoted himself wholly to literature had been made the 
subject of such extended biographical narrative. Note 
worthy, too, is the fact that Walton writes entirely in a 
vein of panegyric; by nature, he wishes to condone to 
forgive and to forget. " Without doubt," says Mr. Gosse, 
" his incorrigible optimism entered into his study of the 
character of his friends, and it is no part of his inexperience 
as a portrait-painter that he mixes nis colours with so much 
rose-water. He saw his distinguished acquaintances in that 
light; he saw them pure, radiant, and stately beyond a 
mortal guise, and he could not be true to himself unless he 
gave them the superhuman graces at which we may now 

1 " Alike irresistible in the excellence of their tendencies, the one 
[The Compleat Angler] might be characterised as the Ritual of the 
Fields; the other [the Lives} the Book of the Church." Major'sLv, 
p. iii. 


smile a little." l How like him is this passage: " It was said 
that the accusation was contrived by a dissenting brother, 
one that endured not church ceremonies, hating him for 
his book's sake, which he was not able to answer : and his 
name hath been told me; but I have not so much con 
fidence in the relation as to make my pen fix a scandal on 
him to posterity; I shall rather leave it doubtful to the 
great day of revelation." 2 The biographies are in no sense 
complete from the point of view of mere information: they 
are but delightful miniatures by a charming writer, who 
more truly exhibits himself than those of whom he is 
writing. " Indeed," remarks Professor Raleigh, " Walton's 
Lives are almost too perfect to serve as models. They are 
obituary poems ; each of them has the unity and the melody 
of a song or sonnet; they deal with no problems, but sing 
the praises of obscure beneficence and a mind that seeks 
its happiness in the shade." 3 We are not surprised that 
Wordsworth enshrined them in a sonnet which cannot be 
omitted in a tribute to Walton: 

" There are no colours in the fairest sky 
So fair as these. The feather, whence the pen 
Was shaped that traced the lives of these good men, 
Dropped from an Angel's wing. With moistened eye 
We read of faith and purest charity 
In Statesman, Priest, and humble Citizen: 
Oh could we copy their mild virtues, then 
What joy to live, what blessedness to die! 
Methinks their very names shine still and bright; 
Apart like glow-worms on a summer night; 
Or lonely tapers when from far they fling 
A guiding ray; or seen like stars on high, 
Satellites burning in a lucid ring 
Around meek Walton's heavenly memory." * 

1 In Craik's English Prose, vol. ii. p. 341. 

2 Major's Lives (Hooker), pp. 238-9. 

3 Six Essays on Johnson, pp. 103-4. 

4 Ecclesiastical Sonnets, III. v. 


The Lives possess a value far and away beyond their con 
tribution to the development of English biography; they 
are in themselves classics. They are just what we should 
expect from the author of The Compleat Angler. To digress 
with Walton is a pleasure that no reader should forego. 1 

It was long before English biography changed much 
from Walton's method. Samuel Johnson followed him 
closely in plan, cutting away, however, from panegyric, 
and adding literary criticism. It must be remarked that 
Walton, too, made observations, though slight, upon 
the writings of those whose lives he narrated. Walton's 
were the first biographical narratives to grip the attention 
of the public. Between 1670 and 1675 four editions of the 
Lives (Donne, Wotton, Hooker, and Herbert), collected in 
one volume, appeared. After 1678 the Life of Sanderson 
was added to the collection, and the five lives became " the 
forerunners of a whole class of English literature." 

The excellent advance made by Walton was not un 
attended by contemporaneous retarding influences. One of 
the chief of these influences was that exerted by the senti 
ments set forth by Thomas Sprat in An Account of the Life 
and Writings of Mr. Abraham Cowley, prefixed to an 
edition of Cowley's Works in 1668. In this Account^ Sprat 
succeeded in doing two things; he confirmed and continued 
the habit of making biography panegyric a in character, 
and he, for a time, delayed the just rising custom of using 
familiar correspondence to elucidate character. Doctor 
Johnson was constrained to say in regard to the element of 

1 " Then he [Plutarch] was more happy in his digressions than 
any we have named. I have always been pleased to see him, and his 
imitator Montaigne, when they strike a little out of the common 
road ; for we are sure to be the better for their wandering." Dryden, 
Life of Plutarch. This is another bit of evidence that may be remem 
bered in connexion with Plutarch's influence on Walton. 

1 Sprat believed Cowley's life to be " beneficial for example." 
" This, Sir," he wrote in the Account, " was the principal end of this 
long discourse." 


panegyric that Sprat " has produced a funeral oration 
rather than a history : he has given the character, not the life 
of Cowley; for he writes with so little detail that scarcely 
anything is distinctly known, but all is shown confused and 
enlarged through the mist of panegyric.'* l Against the using 
of private letters a practice foreshadowed by William Roper 
and first begun by Izaak Walton Sprat set himself firmly. 
He admits the excellence of the prose in Cowley's letters: 
" In these," writes Sprat, " he always expressed the native 
tenderness, and innocent gayety of his mind. . . . But I 
know you [he addresses the Account to Martin Clifford] 
agree with me, that nothing of this nature should be 
published. . . . The truth is, the letters that pass between 
particular friends, if they are written as they ought to be, 
can scarce ever be fit to see the light. They should not con 
sist of fulsome compliments, or tedious politics, or elaborate 
elegancies, or general fancies, but they should have a 
native clearness and shortness, a domestical plainness, and 
a peculiar kind of familiarity, which can only affect the 
humour of those to whom they were intended. The very 
same passages which make writings of this nature delight 
ful amongst friends, will lose all manner of taste, when they 
come to be read by those that are indifferent. In such 
letters the souls of men should appear undressed: and in 
that negligent habit, they may be fit to be seen by one or 
two in a chamber, but not to go abroad into the streets. " 
This is enough of quotation to prove that, measured by 
later standards of biography, Sprat was a hopeless incom 
petent. Nevertheless, at the time, his influence was great 
Doctor Johnson refers to him as " an author whose 
pregnancy of imagination, and elegance of language have 
deservedly set him high in the ranks of literature " and 

1 Lives of the Poets (Cowley). By " a character," Johnson meant a 
panegyric, or " a collection of vague impressions of personality"; 
by " a life," he meant " a strict biographic record." 


not for more than a century was the private letter used as an 
important and invaluable element in biography. 

Up to this point, the term biography has been used in 
referring to such narratives as have thus far been written. 
It is now time to call attention to the fact that, so far as 
has been traced, the word biographia was first employed in 
England in the year 1683. l In applying the term biography, 
therefore, to narratives written before 1683, we must 
remember that any such use of the word is out of deference 
to custom. Prior to the publication of Boswell's Life of 
Johnson in 1791 Mason's Gray might be excepted 
there existed in the English language only biographical 
sketches " lives," " characters," " criticisms," as they 
were variously called. In 1683 there was published the 
translation of Plutarch's Lives which is commonly known 
as Dryden's. To this translation Dryden contributed the 
dedication and a " Life " of Plutarch, which " Life," after 
Bacon's remarks already given, continues the critical 
literature of English biography. Somewhat in the manner 
of Bacon, Dryden calls attention to the divisions of History : 
"History is principally divided into these three species; 
Commentaries or Annals; History, properly so called; and 
Biographia, or the Lives of Particular Men." He proceeds 
then with his critical dicta : 

" Biographia, or the history of particular men's lives, 1 comes next 
to be considered; which in dignity is inferior to the other two, as 
being more confined in action, and treating of wars, and councils, 
and all other public affairs of nations, only as they relate to him 
whose life is written, or as his fortunes have a particular dependence 

1 According to Murray's New English Dictionary, biographist was 
first used by Fuller in 1662; biography by Dryden in 1683; biographer 
by Addison in 1715; and biographical by Oldys in 1738. All the 
other compounds are later. Bioypa<f>la is quoted from Damascius, 
c. 500. BioypdQos is cited by du Cange as mediaeval Greek. 

1 The influence of this definition may be traced in dictionaries 
from Johnson to Murray. The Century Dictionary, for example, 
adopts it verbatim. 


on them, or connexion to them. All things here are circumscribed 
and driven to a point, so as to terminate in one; consequently, if 
the action or counsel were managed by colleagues, some part of it 
must be either lame or wanting, except it be supplied by the excur 
sion of the writer. Herein, likewise, must be less of variety, for the 
same reason; because the fortunes and actions of one man are 
related, not those of many. Thus the actions and achievements 
of Sylla, Lucullus, and Pompey, are all of them but the successive 
parts of the Mithridatic war; of which we could have no perfect 
image, if the same hand had not given us the whole, though at 
several views, in their particular lives. 

" Yet though we allow, for the reasons above alleged, that this kind 
of writing is in dignity inferior to History and Annals, in pleasure 
and instruction it equals, or even excels, both of them. It is not only 
commanded by ancient practice to celebrate the memory of great 
and worthy men, as the best thanks which posterity can pay them, 
but also the examples of virtue are of more vigour, when they are thus 
contracted into individuals. As the sunbeams, united in a burning- 
glass to a point have greater force than when they are darted from 
plain superficies, so the virtues and actions of man, drawn together 
into a single story, strike upon our minds a stronger and more lively 
impression, than the scattered relations of many men, and many 
actions; and, by the same means that they give us pleasure, they 
afford us profit too . . . and as the reader is more concerned at one 
man's fortune than those of many, so the writer likewise is more 
capable of making a perfect work if he confine himself to this narrow 
compass. The lineaments, features, and colouring of a single picture 
may be hit exactly: but in a history-piece of many figures, the 
general design, the ordonnance or disposition of it, the relation of one 
figure to another, the diversity of the posture, habits, shadowings, 
and all the other graces conspiring to an uniformity, are of so diffi 
cult performance, that neither is the resemblance of particular 
persons often perfect, nor the beauty of the piece complete; for any 
considerable errour in the parts renders the whole disagreeable and 
lame. Thus, then the perfection of the work, and the benefit arising 
from it, are both more absolute in biography than in history. . . . 

" Biographia, or the histories of particular lives, though circum 
scribed in the subject, is yet more extensive in the style than the 
other two; for it not only comprehends them both, but has some 
what superadded, which neither of them have. The style of it is 
various according to the occasion. There are proper places in it for 
the plainness and nakedness of narration, which is ascribed to annals ; 
there is also room reserved for the loftiness and gravity of general 


history, when the actions related shall require that manner of 
expression. But there is withal a descent into minute circumstances, 
and trivial passages of life, which are natural to this way of writing, 
and which the dignity of the other two will not admit. There you 
are conducted only into the rooms of state, here you are led into the 
private lodgings of the hero; you see him in his undress, and are 
made familiar with his most private actions and conversations. You 
may behold a Scipio and a Laelius gathering cockleshells on the shore, 
Augustus playing at bounding stones with boys, and Agesilaus 
riding on a hobby-horse among his children. The pageantry of life 
is taken away : you see the poor reasonable animal as naked as ever 
nature made him; are made acquainted with his passions and his 
follies, and find the demi-god a man. Plutarch himself has more than 
once defended this kind of relating little passages: for, in the Life 
of Alexander, he says thus : ' In writing the lives of illustrious Men, 
I am not tied to the laws of history; nor does it follow that, because 
an action is great, it therefore manifests the greatness and virtue of 
him who did it; but, on the other side, sometimes a word, or a 
casual jest, betrays a man more to our knowledge of him, than a 
battle fought wherein ten thousand men were slain, or sacking of 
cities, or a course of victories.' In another place he quotes Xenophon 
on the like occasion : ' The sayings of great men in their familiar 
discourses, and amidst their wine, have somewhat in them which 
is worthy to be transmitted to posterity.' Our author [Plutarch] 
therefore needs no excuse, but rather deserves a commendation, 
when he relates, as pleasant, some sayings of his heroes, which appear 
(I must confess it) very cold and insipid mirth to us. For it is not his 
meaning to commend the jest, but to paint the man." 1 

To such a stage had biography and the criticism of bio 
graphy progressed seventeen years before the close of the 
seventeenth century. It is at once apparent that, par 
ticularly as expressed in Dryden's contribution to the sub 
ject, the broad, general principles of biography are clearly 
set forth. Portions of the foregoing excerpts could well be 
applied to the work done by Boswell. The conception of 
biography had become clear in the minds of men like 
Dryden, even though they had not reached the point where 
they could consider it as related, indeed, to history, yet 

The Works of John Dryden, Constable (1821), vol. 17, pp. 56-62. 


definitely separated from it a literary form sui generis. 
The long process of evolution in the biographical form was, 
at the close of the seventeenth century, nearing culmina 
tion so far as content was concerned : a full century was still 
demanded to bring } about that culmination. What all 
writers of biographical narrative from long before the time 
of Plutarch l had struggled to present " that faithful 
portrait of a soul in its adventures through life " was 
reserved for a native of North Britain to delineate with 
remarkable completeness and success. It was entirely in 
keeping with the progress of human thought and manners 
that the " fulness of time " came near the end of the 
eighteenth century. 

1 Professor Bernadotte Perrin, of Yale University, has shown in 
the excellent Introduction to his Plutarch's Themistocles and Arts- 
tides (the parts " Plutarcfc the Biographer " and " Biography before 
Plutarch ") that " there was a recognised technique of biography 
long before Plutarch, to the general features of which it can be seen 
that he conforms, at least in many of his Lives." 





MANY conditions conspired to make the eighteenth a 
century of development and fulfilment in the history of 
English biography. Education was becoming wide-spread; 
a reading public was demanding literature which was 
supplied by the various forms of journalistic enterprise 
newspapers, magazines, and literary reviews; men were 
awakening to an interest in themselves. The emphasis was 
fast shifting from an interest in the higher ranks of society 
to an interest in the common people: in the stock phrase, 
men were coming to a realisation, however dim as yet, of 
" the brotherhood of man." One of the important factors 
in the production of this state of affairs was the coffee-house. 
Writing under date of June 15, 1680, John Aubrey penned 
the following significant sentence in a letter l to Anthony 
Wood : " 'Tis a task [the writing of the Minutes of Lives] 
that I never thought to have undertaken till you imposed it 
upon me, sayeing that I was fitt for it by reason of my 
generall acquaintance, having now not only lived above 
halfe a centurie of yeares in the world, but have also been 
much tumbled up and downe in it which hath made me 
much knowne; besides the moderne advantage of coffee- 
howses in this great Citie [London], before which men knew 
not how to be acquainted, but with their owne relations, or 

Leaving out of consideration the qualifications for the 
1 Quoted by Andrew Clark in Aubrey's " Brief Lives," vol. i. p. 10, 


writing of biography, set forth so naively by Wood to 
Aubrey, we now know that Aubrey, in mentioning the 
coffee-house, recognised at that early date one of the con 
ditions requisite for the development of biography. In 1691, 
Anthony Wood admitted that such work as the gathering 
of material for the Aihenae Oxonienses was " a great deal 
more fit for one who frequents much society in common 
rooms, at public fires, in coffee-houses, assignations, clubs, 
etc., where the characters of men and their works are fre 
quently discussed," than for himself " as 'twere dead to the 
world, and utterly unknown in person to the generality of 
scholars in Oxon." Unconsciously, through many years, 
the men of those times were schooling themselves: those 
" who gathered day after day in these resorts were not only 
interested in their companions' ideas and demeanour; they 
cultivated an eye for trivial actions and utterances, a gift 
for investigating other people's prejudices and partialities, 
and they realised the pleasure of winning their way into the 
intricacies of another man's mind. Hence, they acquired 
a new attitude towards their fellow-creatures. Characters 
which would formerly have been ridiculed or despised were 
now valued as intellectual pi*zz$es, eccentricities attracted 
sympathetic attention, and if became the note of intelligent 
men to be tolerant." 1 Dryden and the worthies who 
gathered at Will's Coffee-House, and the long succession of 
literary men who succeeded them, helped to cultivate a 
taste for the gossipy conversation which entered into the 
very life of later eighteenth-century biography.^ 

Before 1700, except for the biographical compilations 
which need not here enter into consideration, biography was 
sporadic and occasional. Indeed, for many years after the 
beginning of the eighteenth century, " lives " were simply 
prefixed to editions of the authors' works. The public, 
1 Cambridge History of English Literature, vol. ix. p. 31. 


however, was now beginning to demand satisfaction of its 
desire for information about men common men like them 
selves. The man who came forward to take advantage of 
this desire was that publisher of unsavoury reputation, 
Edmund Curll. As Professor Walter Raleigh excellently 
says of Curll : " It occurred to him that, in a world governed 
by the law of mortality, men might be handsomely enter 
tained on one another's remains. He lost no time in putting 
his theory into practice. During the years of his activity, 
he published some forty or fifty separate Lives, intimate, 
anecdotal, scurrilous sometimes, of famous and notorious 
persons who had the ill-fortune to die during his life-time. 
He had learned the wisdom of the grave-digger in Hamlet, 
and knew that there are many rotten corpses nowadays, 
that will scarce hold the laying in. So he seized on them 
before they were cold, and commemorated them in batches. 
One of his titles runs : The Lives of the most Eminent Persons 
who died in the years 1711, 12, 13, 14, 15, in 4 vols. 8vo. 
His books commanded a large sale, and modern biography 
was established." * 

The work thus initiated by Curll soon became sufficiently 
important to merit the attention of the leading literary 
men of the time. In No. 35 of the Freeholder (April 20, 
1716), Addison, writing " Of Modern Historians," spoke 
thus : " The misfortune is, that there are more instances of 
men who deserve this kind of immortality [that secured 
by a good " life-historian "], than of authors who are able 
to bestow it. Our country, which has produced writers of 
the first figure in every other kind of work, has been very 
barren in good historians. . . . There is a race of men 
lately sprung up ... whom one cannot reflect upon with 
out indignation as well as contempt. These are our Grub- 
Street biographers, who watch for the death of a great man 
1 Six Essays on Johnson, p. 117. 


like so many undertakers, on purpose to make a penny of 
him. He is no sooner laid in his grave, but he falls into the 
hand of an historian; who, to swell a volume, ascribes to 
him works which he never wrote, and actions which he 
never performed; celebrates virtues which he was never 
famous for, and excuses faults which he was never guilty of. 
They fetch their only authentic records out of Doctors' 
Commons, and when they have got a copy of his last will 
and testament, they fancy themselves furnished with 
sufficient materials for his history. ^This might indeed 
enable them in some measure to write the history of his 
death; but what can we expect from an author that 
undertakes to write the life of a great man, who is furnished 
with no other matters of fact .besides legacies ; and instead 
of being able to tell us what he did, can only tell us what 
he bequeathed ? This manner of exposing the private 
concerns of families, and sacrificing the secrets of the dead 
to the curiosity of the living, is one of those licentious 
practices which might well deserve the animadversions of 
our government, when it has time to contrive expedients 
for remedying the many crying abuses of the press. In the 
meanwhile, what a poor idea must strangers conceive of 
those persons who have been famous among us in their 
generation, should they form their notions of them from 
the writings of these our historiographers! What would 
our posterity think of their illustrious forefathers should 
they only see them in such weak and disadvantageous 
lights! But to our comfort, works of this nature are so 
short-lived that they cannot possibly diminish the memory 
of those patriots which they are not able to preserve." 

What Addison wrote in regard to the short life of the 
Grub-Street biographies was true enough. The works of 
Curll were in themselves of no intrinsic value, yet they were 
a stimulating contribution to the progressive biographical 


movement, as they were also the inevitable outgrowth of 
accumulated past tendencies. Now that the " taste for 
biography " was aroused, the supply rapidly increased. 
No small portion of this supply consisted of what may be 
classed as criminal biographies, which constitute a remark 
able, if peculiar, chapter in the development of English 
biography. These biographies were far enough from the 
long-standing tendency to treat only of churchmen, rulers, 
and great statesmen; and indicate in no uncertain way 
the shifting, unwholesome as it may have been in this case, 
of attention to the common people. Criminal pamphlets 
of actual rogues were first published in English in the 
sixteenth century; these were followed by longer narratives 
in the seventeenth; and these in the eighteenth were suc 
ceeded by a " deluge of rogue literature " memoirs, 
sketches, confessions, and such collected chronicles of crime 
as The Newgate Calendar. 1 

At this point, it is well to note the manner in which the 
English novel developed as an offshoot of biography. 
Daniel Defoe was one of those who, on the death of a well- 
known person, made a practice of writing a life immediately, 
in order to take advantage of public interest. As he often 
found it difficult or impossible to obtain full and authentic 
information in regard to the subjects of these lives, he did 
just what Addison complained of in the Freeholder paper 
given above, filled his pages with inferences and inventions. 
In short, " fiction entered into his biographies, just as 
biography afterward entered into his novels." 2 In the 
words of his biographer, William Minto, " from writing 
biographies with real names attached to them, it was but 

1 For excellent treatment of the criminal biographies, with biblio 
graphy, see chap. iv. of vol. i., The Literature of Roguery, by Frank 
Wadleigh Chandler. 

1 Bayard Tuckerman, A History of English Prose Fiction, pp. 


a short step to writing biographies with fictitious names ; " x 
for, as Professor Chandler well says, when Defoe " turned 
from composing criminal pamphlets upon Wild and Shep- 
pard [actual rogues] to write Moll Flanders and Colonel 
Jacque, he merely substituted imaginary for actual beings, 
and enlarged the scale without altering the method of 
treatment." 2 It is thus evident that " the realistic writing 
of Defoe and the realistic novel in England were, the 
offspring of these ancestors, the children of a taste for fact. 
Realistic fiction in this country was first written by way of 
direct imitation of truthful record, and not, as in France, 
by way of burlesque on the high-flown romance." 3 It is 
sufficient here to indicate, also, that Robinson Crusoe is 
only a fictitious autobiography, for which Defoe took as a 
model " the form that best produces the illusion of truth 
that of current memoirs with the accompaniment of a 
diary." 4 Later, we shall have occasion to see how the novel 
was influenced in its development through the increasing 
use of letters in biography. 

Biography had now concerned itself in turn with eccle 
siastic, ruler, statesman, and criminal ; the eighteenth 
century had well nigh reached its midmost point before it 
turned attention to the avowed man of letters. Before the 
death of Alexander Pope in 1744, the lifet>f no man, purely 
a man of letters, had been written and separately published. 
Nicholas Rowe's Account of the Life of Mr. William Shake 
speare but forms the introduction to an edition of the 
dramatist's plays (1709). Thomas Sprat had excused 
himself in 1668 for writing the Life of Cowley prefixed 
to an edition of Cowley's Works saying that perhaps he 
had " spent too many words on a private man, and a 

1 Life of Defoe, p. 137. 

8 The Literature of Roguery, vol. i. pp. 186-7. 

8 Walter Raleigh, The English Novel, p. 114. 

Cross, The Development of the English Novel, p. 28. 


scholar " although Cowley was not at all entirely a 
literary man. Pope's death, however, was the occasion of 
the beginning of that habit of writing literary biographies 
which has extended, with ever-increasing volume, to the 
present, when, as Professor Lounsbury remarks, it is 
impossible for the man of letters to escape the biographer. 
Within the year of Pope's death two anonymous catch 
penny lives appeared, followed in 1745 by the pretentious 
and worthless two volumes of the Memoirs of the Life and 
Writings of Alexander Pope by William Ayre; the Life by 
W. H. Dilworth in 1759; and that by Owen Ruffhead in 
1769. It should likewise be borne in mind that Johnson 
wrote his Life of Richard Savage in 1744, and thus began 
his career as a biographer of literary men with the actual 
beginning of literary biography. The man 01 letters had 
at last come into his own. 

It is interesting to note how from the very beginning 
biographers have seemed to feel compelled to make excuses 
for undertaking to write of men whose lives have been 
devoted to literature. A study of prefaces and the opening 
pages of such biographies from 1744 to ^ e P resent will 
furnish abundant evidence of the custom. No more need 
be done here than give a few examples of the practice. In 
undertaking to write of Pope, Ayre remarks : " Let no 
one think it strange or foreign to Mr. Pope that we thus 
largely discourse comparatively on these poets with him, 
for he rilled up all his time almost in such a way; take 
from his life his perusal and comparing the poets, his con 
versation about literature with his friends, receiving letters 
on learned subjects and criticism from them, and writing 
again to them all, Mr. Pope's active part of life would not 
fill one sheet of paper. The two greatest actions of his life 
are, that he went from London when young to live at 
Windsor Forest, and in the year 1716 moved to Twicken- 


ham, for the remainder of his days." 1 " So," continues 
Ayre, " all readers will be disappointed who look into the 
Life of Mr. Pope, expecting to find anything else but a 
gentleman, a scholar, and a poet. He filled no office or 
place, was involved in no lawsuits, was no traveller, moved 
but little from one place to another, never married, and 
confined his conversation within the circle of his friends; 
in short, his life was wholly a state of inaction, and spent in 
conversation, study, and books." 2 

Goldsmith, in beginning the Life of Voltaire in 1759, 
writes in a similar vein: " That life which has been wholly 
employed in the study, is properly seen only in the author's 
writings; there is no variety to entertain, nor adventure 
to interest us in the calm anecdotes of such an existence. 
Cold criticism is all the reader must expect, instead of 
instructive history." He continues in the Life of Parnell, 
in 1770: "The life of a scholar seldom abounds with 
adventure. His fame is acquired in solitude; and the 
historian, who only views him at a distance, must be content 
with a dry detail of actions by which he is scarcely dis 
tinguished from the rest of mankind. . . . Such is the very 
unpractical detail of the life of a poet. Some dates, and 
some few facts scarcely more interesting than those that 
make the ornaments of a country tombstone are all that 
remain of one whose labours now begin to excite universal 
curiosity. A poet, while living, is seldom an object suffi 
ciently great to attract much attention; his real merits are 
known to but a few, and these are generally sparing in 
their praises." Of men working in a different department of 
literature this was written in 1772: "It will in brief be 
only remarked that the personal history of a man devoted 
to study, or a single employ, does not afford matter of 
great moment, or admit of those striking events that 
1 Memoirs of Pope, vol. ii. p. 153. ' Ibid. pp. 154-5. 


commonly engage general attention. The scene of action 
is of a different kind, and by their literary connexions they 
are best known to the world: In this view our author 
[Leland], the subject of present consideration, requires 
particular regard. The life of Leland may, in some degree, 
indeed, be said to have been active, but it was of a nature 
confined and laborious, not diversified with a sufficient 
variety of objects to gratify the spirit of public curiosity, 
but an arduous task, spent in silent unremitting attention." 1 
In 1882, Samuel Longfellow wrote in the same vein: " The 
reader must be reminded at the outset, and must remember 
all along, that this is the Life of a man of letters. . . . 
t Now, the life of a man of letters must needs be unexciting 
and uneventful in the eyes of men of activities and affairs. 
In such a life, a new book is a great adventure, a new poem 
or tale a chief event." 2 Thus apologetically has the bio 
graphy of literary men arisen and held its own against the 
innate human desire for action and adventure. 

It may be well to observe here that some years before the 
close of the seventeenth century, biography was beginning 
to grow more formal and studied, the briefer sketches giving 
place to extended records. This was particularly true in 
the case of churchmen. Gilbert Burnet's Life of William 
Bedell (1685) was > f r t ^ ie period in which it was composed, 
well proportioned and excellently written. Richard Parr's 
Life of James Usher (1686) devotes one hundred and three 
folio pages to the narrative of the Archbishop's life, wherein 
we find a brief character of Usher as " a private man, a 
minister and bishop of God's Church, and as a most loyal 
subject to his lawful sovereign prince." 8 One of the longest 
biographies published before Boswell's Life of Dr. Johnson 

1 The Lives of those Eminent Antiquaries, John Leland, Thomas 
Hearne, etc., vol. i. p. v. 

Life of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Preface. 
Pp. 79-92. 


was John Racket's Scrinia Reserata : a Memorial offered, 
to the Great Deserving* of John Williams, D.D., completed 
February 17, 1657; l published in 1693. This ponderous 
and formidable tome of 458 folio pages was frankly intended 
to be more than a biography of Lord Keeper Williams ; $he 
title-page indicates that the reader may expect a narrative 
of "a series of the most remarkable occurrences and transac 
tions of his life, in relation both to Church and State," and 
the author takes care to add, near the close of the book;' 
" I need not admonish my readers, for they find it all the) 
way, that my scope is not so much to insist upon the 
memorable things of one man's life; as to furnish them with 
reading out of my small store, that are well-willers to 
learning in theological, political, and moral knowledge.'* 2 
Bishop Racket at least knew what he was doing, and when 
he writes, " I have borrowed this much room to set up a 
little obelisk for King James, out of that which is only 
intended to the memorials of his Lord Keeper," 3 he is 
only following out a pre-determined plan. Of Scrinia 
Reserata, the Rev. George G. Perry wrote: " It displays 
great learning and much wit, but has the common bio 
graphical defect of defending too indiscriminately the 
many questionable passages in the lord keeper's life: 
nevertheless, it remains one of the best biographies in the 
English language. Coleridge in his " Table Talk " credits 
it with giving the most invaluable insight into the times' 
preceding the civil wars of any book he knew." 4 Of how-' 
ever much value the work may be from the historical point 
of view, it is bestowing too great praise upon it to say that ' 
" it remains one of the best biographies in the English 
language." This is true only when the actual biographical 
portion is separated from the great mass of extraneous 

1 See Scrinia Reserata, part ii. p. 229. Ibid. p. 229. 

3 Ibid, part i. p. 228. 

4 Dictionary of National Biography, Article " John Racket." " 


material; in brief, it is not a good biography, because its 
author lacked the power of artistic construction. 

History and biography as combined in Scrinia Reserata 
continued to flourish and develop in the eighteenth century; 
from the numerous types produced, Thomas Carte's History 
of the Life of James Duke of Ormonde (three volumes, 1735-6) 
and George Lord Lyttleton's The History of the Life of King 
Henry the Second, and of the Age in which he lived, in five 
books, etc. (1767) may be given as examples. As the interest 
in biography grew, writers began to look abroad for sub 
jects, and sdon Englishmen were publishing such long 
and diligently wrought volumes as Conyers Middleton's 
History of the Life of Marcus Tullius Cicero (two volumes, 
1741); John Jortin's The Life of Erasmus (1758); and the 
Rev. Walter Harte's History of the Life of Gustavus Adol- 
phus (two volumes, 1759). Likewise a new spirit of research 
was entering into the works of both historians and bio 
graphers, a spirit that was later in the nineteenth century 
to work a revolution in all sorts of historical and literary 
labours. Among biographers, William Oldys was a pioneer 
in the application of this new spirit, his Life of Sir Walter 
Raleigh (two volumes, 1736) remaining as a monument of 
painful, laborious, and effective research in a period when 
there were practically none of the helps now considered so 
needful for the literary worker. Gibbon at one time formed 
a purpose to write a Life of Raleigh ; but, after reading 
Oldys', and coming to the conclusion that " he could add 
nothing new to the subject except the uncertain merit of 
style and sentiment," he gave up the design. Although he 
does not say as much, Gibbon, without doubt, learned 
much of the research method from Oldys. 1 

See Gibbon's Autobiography for references to the work of Oldys. 
Consult in addition the Memoir of William Oldys, London, 1862, p. 
xiv. See also, what Oldys himself remarks in The Life of Raleigh, 
vol. i. The Works of Sir Walter Raleigh, pp. 4-5, Oxford, 1829. 


It will be noticed that Gibbon speaks of the " uncertain 
merit of style and sentiment," a phrase with which a student 
of either history or biography finds it difficult to agree. 
Style and sentiment are no uncertain merits; on the 
contrary, other things being equal, they are the very life- 
blood of a composition. Previous to the middle of the 
eighteenth century, most of the biographies written in 
English laboured under the disadvantage of a heavy, 
obscure, involved style: they are not easy to read. As the 
leaven of Dryden's and Addison's style began to make itself 
felt, biography becomes a brighter thing to read. Oldys' 
Life of Raleigh, excellent as it is otherwise, is yet laborious 
reading: the sentence-structure is but little in advance of 
Fulke Greville Lord Brooke's Life of Sir Philip Sidney 
(published 1652). Literary grace and charm entered into 
the writing of biography through the slight contributions 
made by Oliver Goldsmith, of whom in this department of 
composition Johnson's " nullum quod tetigit non ornavit " 
is noticeably true. Goldsmith wrote four brief biographical 
sketches: the Memoirs ofM. de Voltaire, 1759; The Life of 
Richard Nash, 1762, that " inimitable mock heroic, confer 
ring immortality on a marionette of supreme quality " ; 1 
the Life of Thomas Parnell, 1759, a hurried composition, 
written for an edition of Parnell's Poems, published by 
Davies; and the fragmentary Life of Lord Bolingbroke 
prefixed to an edition of the Dissertation on Parties, pub 
lished by Davies in 1770. Although he touched these 
sketches lightly writing them hurriedly and with little 
preparation he did much to advance biography to the 
realm of literature. Since Izaak Walton laid aside the bio 
grapher's pen after completing The Life of Sanderson, no one 
approached him in style of biographical narrative save 
Goldsmith. To pass from Lord Brooke's Life of Sidney, or 
1 Harmsworth Encyclopedia, Article " Biography." 


Racket's Scrinia Reserata, or Oldys' Life of Raleigh to 
The Life of Richard Nash, is like passing from an uncertain 
and stumbling way through the darkness of a cave to the 
grassy footpaths of a daisy-sprinkled meadow. 

Meanwhile, a literature dealing with the criticism of 
biography a literature slender enough to be sure was 
beginning to emerge. Men were beginning to discuss bio 
graphy; authors in their prefaces and opening pages gave 
their opinions on what had been done and on what they 
were attempting to do; the periodicals were beginning to 
carry little essays on the subject of biography into the 
courts of the coffee-houses ; the literary magazines were 
beginning to publish notices and brief reviews of " Lives." 
In the issue of the Idler for November 24, 1759 (>fe. 84), 
Johnson felt justified in making the statement that " Bio 
graphy is, of the various kinds of narrative writing, that 
which is most eagerl)* read and most easily applied to the 
purposes of life." The form had now permanently and 
definitely established itself; it had become self-conscious, 
ready, willing, and eager to shake off any hindering charac 
teristics and to take on those qualities most to be desired. 
The criticism of the period, so far as it was directed towards 
biography, set itself principally against the elements of 
panegyric and against the notion that the lives of ordinary 
individuals were not worthy of commemoration. 

In his suggestive article on " Biography " in the Encyclo 
paedia Britannica, Mr. Edmund Gosse states that William 
Oldys was " the first to speak out boldly " against this 
" highly artificial thing, lacking all the salieat features of 
honest portraiture," and leaves the reader with the impres 
sion that Oldys was the first to attack the solemnly vague, 
grandiose, panegyrical lives of which Sprat's Cowley, 
according to Mr. Gosse, was the forerunner and the example. 
It is certain, however, that Mr. Oldys was not the first to 


speak out against such types of biography; and equally 
true that Thomas Sprat was not the first to produce such 
narratives. It is evidence sufficient perhaps to call attention 
to the fact that Oldys, even though he says that " general 
characters, high-flown panegyrics, or outrageous satires 
had very frequently appeared under the appellation of 
Lives," yet praises " Sprat's inimitable Life of Cowley." * 
Mr. Gosse has also undoubtedly misinterpreted the 
closing sentences of Oldys' Preface to the Biograpbia 
Britannica 2 when he says that Oldys " pointed out the 
cruelty, we might even say the impiety, of sacrificing the 
glory of great characters to trivial circumstances and mere 
conveniency, and attacked the timid and scrupulous super 
ficiality of those who undertook to write lives of eminent 
men, while omitting everything which gave definition to 
the portrait." At this particular point in the Preface, Mr. 
Oldys was simply emphasising the fact that no trouble was 
to be spared to make the work complete and easy to be 
consulted even though the preconceived plan should have 
to be altered. 3 

1 Biographia Britannica, vol. i. p. xii. See, moreover, what John 
Berkenhout had to say: " If these authors [of the Biographia 
Britannica] have too generally and indiscriminately exhibited 
adulatory portraits of our ancestors, it must be ascribed to an excess 
of philanthropy, and therefore ought not to be peevishly considered." 
Biographia Liter aria, Prefatory matter, 1777. 

8 The Preface is unsigned, but in all probability Oldys wrote it, 
or at least had a part in its composition. 

3 It is perhaps well that the portion of the Preface here in question 
should be given: " One thing however we must be permitted to 
mention before we conclude, and that is, the care to bring all remark 
able articles into our Biography at once and under the same alpha 
bet, so that the memorable facts throughout our whole history, the 
disputable points relating to chronology, the circumstances attending 
every event of importance, as well as the characters and actions of the 
persons principally concerned in them, may be all readily found and 
represented to the reader, supported by proper evidence, and 
explained by the comparison of what has been advanced concerning 
them by different writers. To have left out articles of note would 
have been unpardonable in an historical, and to have treated such 


It has already been pointed out that from the days of 
the narratives of saints' lives, the tendency of biography in 
Britain had been towards panegyric; it has also been 
admitted that Sprat's Life of Cowley did much to confirm 
this tendency. It remains to be shown that a reaction 
against this sort of biography set in long before 1747, the 
date of Oldys' Preface. Margaret Duchess of Newcastle's 
Life of William Cavendish, Duke of Newcastle^ appeared in 
1667, and even at this early date voices a strong protest 
against panegyric. " When I first intended to write this 
history " we quote a part of the Duchess* Preface 
" knowing myself to be no scholar, and as ignorant of the 
rules of writing histories as I have in my other works 
acknowledged myself to be of the names and terms of art; 
I desired my Lord that he would be pleased to let me have 
some elegant and learned historian to assist me; which 
request his Grace would not grant me. ... I humbly 
answered that without a learned assistant, the history 

articles superficially, unworthy a critical dictionary; the fulfilling 
our Plan, after we were satisfied of its being approved by the public, 
became our indispensable duty, and to that we have constantly 
attended in the choice, and in the manner of treating our articles. 
If, therefore, they appear more numerous than might be expected, 
or the doing them justice requires a little more room than at first 
might be conceived requisite, let it be considered how far the reputa 
tion of our country, the honour of our ancestors, the respect due to 
the memories of great men, and the vast importance of setting 
worthy examples before the eyes of posterity, are concerned. When 
we reflect seriously upon this, and on the cruelty, we might even say 
impiety, of sacrificing the glory of great characters to trivial circum 
stances and mere convenience, it might be justly apprehended that 
the world would rather resent our timidity, if we should distrust 
their approbation of the liberty necessary to be taken in this respect, 
than censure us for doing at once, what, some time or other, must 
have been done, if we had been too scrupulous in the performance 
of what we undertook. Architects are seldom censured for small 
mistakes in their estimates, if the structure they proposed to erect 
be but uniform and complete : besides, a palace finished at once, is 
always cheaper, as well as more beautiful, than when helped out by 
additional buildings made necessary from the cramping of the first 
design." Vol. i. p. xv. (1747). 


would be defective: but he replied that truth could not be 
defective. I said again that rhetoric did adorn the truth: 
and he answered that rhetoric was fitter for falsehoods than 
truths. Thus I was forced by his Grace's commands to 
write this history in my own plain style, without elegant 
flourishings, or exquisite method, relying entirely upon 
truth, in the expressing whereof I have been very circum 
spect. ... I am resolved to write in a natural, plain 
style, without Latin sentences, moral instructions, politic 
designs, feigned orations, or envious and malicious exclama 
tions, this short history of the loyal, heroic, and prudent 
actions of my noble Lord, as also of his sufferings, losses, 
and ill-fortunes." In 1685, Gilbert Burnet, in his preface 
to The Life of William Bedell, wrote these words : " I will 
only give a bare and simple relation of his life, and will 
avoid the bestowing on him or his actions such epithets 
and praises as they deserve: but will leave that to the 
reader: for in writing of lives all big words are to be left 
to those who dress up legends, and make lives rather than 
write them : the things themselves must praise the person, 
otherwise all the good words that the writer bestows on 
him will only show his own great kindness to his memory, 
but will not persuade others : on the contrary it will incline 
them to suspect his partiality, and make them look on him 
as an author rather than a writer." In another part of the 
preface, Burnet insists : " Lives must be written with the 
strictness of a severe historian and not helped up with 
rhetoric and invention " ; and later on he confesses that in 
writing of Bishop Usher he found it hard to follow his own 
principles : " So he was certainly one of the greatest and 
best men that the age, or perhaps the world, has produced. 
But no man is entirely perfect; he was not made for the 
governing part of his function. . . . But this was necessary 
to be told, since history is to be writ impartially; and I 


ought to be forgiven for taxing his memory a little; for I 
was never so tempted in anything that I ever writ, to dis 
guise the truth, as upon this occasion." l This, surely, is 
speaking out boldly and plainly. 

It will be remembered that Mr. Perry wrote that Racket's 
Scrinia Reserata " has the common biographical defect 
of defending too indiscriminately the many questionable 
passages in the lord keeper's [Bishop Williams'] life." 
The manner, therefore, in which even Bishop Racket spoke 
out as early as 1657 (although not printed until 1693) is 
valuable to note: " I would he had done himself no greater 
wrong as a justician: but there was a miscarriage which 
I cannot pass over; a great deal of it was error, but some 
what in it hath the wilfulness of a fault. I am not wanton, 
like the ladies that lodge about the piazza in Covent Garden, 
to lay a black patch upon a fair cheek, where it need not. 
No: my scope is to make his oversight a caution to others. 
For I intend in all that I write (I appeal to God, Who knows 
it), rather to profit many than to praise him." 2 In closing, 
Bishop Racket speaks still more emphatically : " Yet in 
these observations I have not set down a Cyrus, a feigned 
subject, but wrought them into the true image of this 
prelate. . . . Some are cheated with wit now-a-days after 
the French fashion, and had rather men should be com 
mended in romances of persons that were never extant, 
than in such as lived among us, truly deserved glory, and 
did us good. My subject is real, and not umbratic." 3 If 
Bishop Racket could not live up to what he thus set down 
as a principle, he at least recognised the biographical fault 
and spoke out plainly against it. 

In much the same strain, John Toland, writing at the 
very close of the seventeenth century (1698), speaks thus 

1 Life of William Bedell, pp. 86-8. 
1 Scrinia Reserata, part i. p. 36. 
3 Ibid, part ii. p. 229. 



in his Life of Milton : " Observing in this performance 
the rules of a faithful historian, being neither provoked by 
malice, nor bribed by favour, and as well daring to say all 
that is true, as scorning to write any falsehood, I shall not 
conceal what may be thought against my author's honour, 
nor add the least word for his reputation. ... In the 
characters of sects and parties, books or opinions, I shall 
produce his own words as I find 'em in his works, that those 
who approve his reasons may owe all the obligation to 
himself, and that I may escape the blame of such as may 
dislike what he says. For it is commonly seen that historians 
are suspected rather to make their hero what they would 
have him to be, than such as he really was . . . but I am 
neither writing a satire nor a panegyric upon Milton, but 
publishing the true history of his actions, works and 
opinions." * In concluding the Life, Toland recurs to the 
same thought : " 'Tis probable that you (as well as I or 
any other) may disapprove of Milton's sentiments in several 
cases, but, I'm sure you are far from being displeased to 
find 'em particularised in the history of his life; for we 
should have no true account of things if authors related 
nothing but what they liked themselves. . . . But a 
historian ought to conceal or disguise nothing, and the 
reader is to be left judge of the virtues he should imitate, 
or the vices he ought to detest and avoid, without ever 
loving his book the less." 2 Roger North, in writing the 
lives of his three brothers (originally published 1740-42), 
kept before himself at all times the thought of the danger 
of running into panegyric. " It may be thought," he writes 
in beginning, " I have touched here too much upon the 
panegyric," 3 and in closing he says : " I may be here told 

1 Prefatory letter, Life of Milton, addressed by Toland to Thomas 

* Life of Milton, pp. 141-2. 

8 Lives of the Norths (Lord Guilford), vol. i. p. 7, London, 1826. 


that if I think, by these descriptions, to exhibit the portrait 
of a great man, I am out of the way. ... I answer that I 
am not giving the portrait of a perfect man; and whoever 
pretends to do so, is a foul flatterer; and yet the character 
I give is no small one, because of a single infirmity, natural 
and unavoidable." l To what extent the writer of the Lives 
of the Norths succeeded, may be inferred from the statement 
made by the editor of the 1826 edition of the Lives : " With 
regard to the character of Lord Guilford himself, although 
the biographer has evidently delineated it under the 
influence of feelings which rendered it impossible for him 
to be truly impartial, he has yet stated all his facts so 
candidly and ingeniously that we have little difficulty in 
forming a just estimate of the Lord Keeper's real character." 
Many more examples of the habit of biographers inveighing 
against panegyric might be given. 

It was not alone the writers of biography who inveighed 
against the rhetorical, panegyric, untruthful life; one of 
the pioneers of the English novel found in the consideration 
of such biographies inspiration which he turned to good 
use in his fiction writing. Thus it is, that the English novel 
is again, at this point in its development, indebted to 
English biography. Henry Fielding entitled chapter i. of 
Joseph Andrews (1742), " Of writing lives in general, and 
particularly of Pamela : with a word, by the bye, of Colley 
Gibber and others," indicating that it was his intention to 
satirise not only Richardson's fictitious autobiographical 
narrative, Pamela, but Gibber's actual autobiography. 
After speaking of the service which " those biographers 
who have recorded the actions of great and worthy persons 
of both sexes " have rendered to mankind, Fielding con 
tinues : " But I pass by these and many others, to mention 
two books, lately published, which represent an admirable 
1 Lives of the Norths (John North), vol. iii. p. 352. 


pattern of the amiable in either sex. The former of these, 
which deals in male virtue, was written by the great person 
himself, who lived the life he hath recorded, and is by many 
thought to have lived such a life only in order to write it. 
The other is communicated to us by an historian who 
borrows his lights, as the common method is, from authentic 
papers and records. The reader, I believe, already con 
jectures I mean the lives of Mr. Colley Gibber, and of 
Mrs. Pamela Andrews. How artfully doth the former, by 
insinuating that he escaped being promoted to the highest 
stations in church and state, teach us a contempt of worldly 
grandeur ! how strongly doth he inculcate an absolute sub 
mission to our superiors ! Lastly, how completely doth he 
arm us against so easy, so wretched a passion as the fear of 
shame! how clearly doth he expose the emptiness and 
vanity of that phantom, reputation ! " 

Likewise, in Mr. Jonathan Wild the Great (published in 
Miscellanies, 1743), Fielding satirises eulogistic biography, 
finding his inspiration chiefly, no doubt, in the many 
criminal biographies; but for all that, pouring forth his 
scorn on all biographers who " lose themselves in pompous 
eulogies of their subjects, for their ' greatness,' without 
consideration of any ' goodness.' " x A real Jonathan Wild 
was hanged at Tyburn in 1725: Fielding's novel is the 
imagined biography of this criminal from his baptism to 
his death on " the Tree of Glory." The following extracts 
will give some conception of Fielding's method and purpose : 

" But besides the two obvious advantages of surveying, as it were 
in a picture, the true beauty of virtue, and deformity of vice, we 
may moreover learn from Plutarch, Nepos, Suetonius, and other 
biographers, this useful lesson, not too hastily, nor in the gross to 
bestow either our praise or censure; since we shall often find such 
a mixture of good and evil in the same character, that it may 

1 See Edmund Gosse, History of Eighteenth Century Literature, 
pp. 253-4; an d Chandler, The Literature of Roguery, vol. ii. p. 303. 


require a very accurate judgment and a very elaborate inquiry to 
determine on which side the balance turns : for though we sometimes 
meet with an Aristides or a Brutus, a Lysander or a Nero, yet far 
the greater number are of the mixt kind ; neither totally good nor 
bad: their greatest virtues being obscured and allayed by their 
vices, and those again softened and coloured over by their virtues." 

" We would not therefore be understood to affect giving the 
reader a perfect or consummate pattern of human excellence; but 
rather, by faithfully recording some little imperfections which 
shadowed over the lustre of those great qualities which we shall here 
record, to teach the lessons we have above mentioned ; to induce our 
reader with us to lament the frailty of human nature, and to con 
vince him that no mortal, after a thorough scrutiny, can be a proper 
object of our adoration." 

" It seems therefore very unlikely that the same person should 
possess them both [greatness and goodness]; and yet nothing is 
more usual with writers who find many instances of greatness in 
their favourite hero, than to make him a complement of goodness 
into the bargain ; and this without considering that by such means 
they destroy the great perfection called uniformity of character." l 

" It is the custom of all biographers, at their entrance into their 
work, to step a little backwards (as far, indeed, generally as they 
are able) and to trace up their hero, as the ancients did the river 
Nile, till an incapacity of proceeding higher puts an end to their 
search. . . . But, whatever original this custom had, it is now too 
well established to be disputed. I shall therefore conform to it in 
the strictest manner." 

" We are sorry we cannot indulge our readers' curiosity with a 
full and perfect account of this accident, but as there are such 
various accounts, one of which only can be true, and possibly, and 
indeed probably none; instead of following the general method of 
historians, who in such cases set down the various reports, and leave 
to your own conjecture which you will choose, we shall pass them 
all over." 8 

1 The three foregoing excerpts are taken from chapter i. of 
Jonathan Wild, entitled " Shewing the wholesome uses drawn from 
recording the achievements of those wonderful productions of nature 
called Great Men." 

1 Ibid. chap. ii. " Giving an account of as many of our hero's 
ancestors as can be gathered out of the rubbish of antiquity, which 
hath been carefully sifted for that purpose." 

* Ibid. chap. vii. 


" Thus we think this passage in our history, at first so greatly 
surprising, is very naturally accounted for; and our relation rescued 
from the Prodigious, which, though it often occurs in biography, is 
not to be encouraged or much commended on any occasion, unless 
when absolutely necessary to prevent the history's being at an end." 1 

It may thus be seen that there was for many years a 
strong growth of sentiment against the fulsomely bombastic 
and panegyric life. So far as its death resulting from the 
stroke of any one man is concerned, it may be said that 
Samuel Johnson dealt that stroke when he wrote The Lives 
of the English Poets (1777-81). Apart from the element 
of philosophical literary criticism which Johnson infused 
into the writing of biography, his greatest contribution to 
the development of the form was his abolition of panegyric. 
Professor Walter Raleigh sums up the matter consum 
mately when he writes that "it is true that Johnson does 
not offer unmixed praise to any of the fifty-two poets. He 
was an old man ; the heat of his early affections was abated. 
He had to judge not only of men, but of books, which are 
sometimes good in parts. His was a new experiment: of 
praise and blame there had been more than enough; he 
set himself to show the reason of things by a process of 
detailed criticism and analysis, so that his book is more 
than a history; it is a philosophy of letters. Many of the 
earlier writers of Lives had been servile eulogists. ' We 
have had too many honey-suckle lives of Milton,' he said 
to Malone; ' mine shall be in another strain/ It is in 
another strain; a strain of a higher mood than if he had 
culled all the flowers of the valley 

' To strew the laureat herse where Lycid lies.' " z 

From this time forth, in theory at least, panegyric in 
biography was dead. One " P. H." writing to the Editor 
of the Gentleman's Magazine in 1777, expressed himself 

1 Jonathan Wild, chap. xii. 2 In his Six Essays on Johnson, pp. 142-3. 


in these words: "I have always thought that the bio 
grapher who endeavours to palliate the wickedness or 
varnish the vices of the man whose life he is writing, does 
an injury to morality and to society. The trite adage of 
DC mortuis nil nisi bonum is no excuse. If the subject is of 
importance to be given to the public, the true character 
ought to be given, and indeed the man who paints in 
colours glaringly false does a real injury to his friend, as 
he only provokes some one to draw aside the curtain and 
expose what might have remained unnoticed but for his 
injudicious forwardness." l To this communication the 
Editor replied : " We entirely agree with our correspondent 
as to biography in general, and as to the Memoirs of Mr. F. 
in particular." 2 Thus it was that by 1777, biographers, 
public, satirists, reviewers, and editors had set themselves 
against this false note in life writing. As a matter of fact, 
while in theory the panegyric is dead, in practice, such is 
the weakness of human nature, it still survives. 

The second point upon which the criticism of the century 
concentrated was that the lives of ordinary individuals 
were worthy of commemoration. 3 The spirit of demo 
cracy was in the air; men were beginning to recognise the 
divine authority of the individual human soul, and to admit 

" That man to man the world o'er 
Shall brithers be for a' that." 

1 Vol. xlvii. p. 625. 

The remarks of " P. H." were occasioned by the observations 
in the issue of the Gentleman's Magazine for November 1777, PP- 
534-7, upon the Memoirs of Samuel Foote, Esq. 

The following definitions from Bailey's English Dictionary (1721) 
throw interesting light upon the prevalent conception as to those 
who were considered worthy of biographical commemoration : 
" Biographer, one who writes the lives of eminent persons " ; " Bio 
graphy," which in the 1721 edition was defined as " a writing of the 
lives of men," was later defined as " the writing of the lives of 
eminent persons." Although " eminent " is somewhat indefinite in 
meaning, it is certain that few, up to this time, were considered 
eminent unless they had won fame in Church or State. 


We have already seen that a remarkable tendency of this 
interest in individuals exhibited itself in the criminal 
biographies. Sir Richard Steele in a notice of Captain 
Alexander Smith's History of the Lives of the most noted 
Highwaymen, Foot-pads, House-breakers, Shop-lifts, etc. 
(1714), felt constrained to speak in the following manner: 
" There is a satisfaction to curiosity in knowing the adven 
tures of the meanest of mankind; and all that I can say in 
general of these great men in their way, recorded by 
Capt. Smith, is that I have more respect for them than for 
greater criminals, who are described with praise by more 
eminent writers." 1 

This interest in the life of the common man steadily 
grew, and was emphasised by writers of great as well as by 
those of little importance. William Ayre in his Memoirs of 
Pope (1745) insisted upon the value of the private man's 
life : " The lives of private men, though they afford not 
examples which may fill the mind with ideas of greatness 
and power like those of princes and generals, yet are they 
such as are more open to common imitation; there are 
few within whose compass those actions are, that is, there 
are, comparatively speaking, few princes or generals, but 
the actions of a private man are as a counsel to all; if good 
eligible, if bad detestable, and to be avoided : for this reason 
most wise men have delighted in faithful biography." 2 In 
much the same strain, Johnson, in the Rambler? added the 
weight of his authority, and made this assertion: " I have 
often thought that there has rarely passed a life of which 
a judicious and faithful narrative would not be useful." 
Acting upon this principle, Johnson had, in 1744, given 
to the world the Life of Savage, one of the first, as it is one 
of the best, lives of a man having little claim to great 

1 The Englishman, No. 48, Jan. 23, 1714. ' Preface, p. v. 

8 No. 60, October 13, 1750. 


merit. The Life of Savage won the praise of Johnson's 
contemporaries. Sir John Hawkins writes that " The 
manner in which Johnson has written this life is very- 
judicious: it afforded no great actions to celebrate, no 
improvements in science to record, nor any variety of events 
to remark on"; 1 and then he quotes Henry Fielding's 
commendation, in which the novelist says: " The author's 
observations are short, significant, and just, as his narrative 
is remarkably smooth and well disposed: his reflections 
open to us all the recesses of the human heart, and, in a 
word, a more just or pleasant, a more engaging or a more 
improving treatise on the excellencies and defects of human 
nature, is scarce to be found in our own or perhaps in any 
other language." 2 " The Life of Savage" writes Professor 
Walter Raleigh, " is a tribute of extraordinary delicacy 
and beauty, paid by Johnson to his friend " ; 3 and thus a 
twentieth-century critic agrees with the estimates made 
in the eighteenth. In point of fact, Johnson not only 
vindicated his statement that " there has rarely passed 
a life of which a judicious and faithful narrative would 
not be useful " a dictum, by the way, thoroughly 
accepted ever since it was uttered he produced a narra 
tive that became a model for many similar lives of the 

Goldsmith, as a disciple of Johnson, summarised much 
of the popular opinion in regard to such biography. 
" History," he writes, " owes its excellence more to the 
writer's manner than to the materials of which it is com 
posed. . . . Thus no one can be properly said to write 
history but he who understands the human heart, and its 
whole train of affections and follies. Those affections and 
follies are properly the materials he has to work upon. 

1 In his Life of Johnson, p. 153. 

1 Quoted from The Champion (February 1744) in Ibid. p. 156. 

* Six Essays on Johnson, p. 19. 


The relations of great events may surprise indeed: they 
may be calculated to instruct those very few who govern 
the million beneath: but the generality of mankind find 
the most real improvement from relations which are 
levelled to the general surface of life, which tell not how 
men learned to conquer, but how they endeavoured to live 
not how they gained the shout of the admiring crowd, 
but how they acquired the esteem of their friends and 
acquaintance." l A little further on, he says: " It were 
to be wished that ministers and kings were left to write 
their own histories ; they are truly useful to few but them 
selves; but for men who are contented with more humble 
stations, I fancy such truths only are serviceable as may 
conduct them safely through life. That knowledge which 
we can turn to our real benefit should be most eagerly 
pursued. Measures which we cannot use but little increase 
the happiness or even the pride of the possessor." 2 In the 
Life of Parnell, Goldsmith repeats Johnson's thought: 
" There is scarcely any man but might be made the subject 
of a very interesting and amusing history if the writer, 
besides a thorough acquaintance with the character he 
draws, were able to make these nice distinctions which 
separate it from all others." 

With the close of the eighteenth century, the right of 
the ordinary individual to biographical commemoration was. 
established. All along, the course of the English novel 
that offspring of the biographical spirit in such narratives 
as Pamela, Tom Jones, Tristram Shandy, and The Vicar 
of Wakefield, was helping to vindicate this right of the 
common people. It is an interesting fact in biography that 
a celebrated life of a great ruler celebrated, that is, in the 
sense of Boswell's Johnson or Lockhart's Scott has never 
been produced in English; with but few exceptions it is true 
1 Memoirs of M. de Voltaire. 2 Ibid. 


that a celebrated life of either statesman or churchman has 
seldom been produced. In English biography, the great 
achievements have been in the department of letters, and 
of these the subjects have arisen, for the most part, from 
the common walks of life. It is not too much to say that 
English biography represents the triumph of democracy, 
of individual worth, of human sympathy, of the divine 
power in the human soul. 

The consummation of a long growing and very important 
custom in biographical narrative was wrought by the 
Rev. William Mason l in his Memoirs of the Life and Writings 
of Thomas Gray (1775). This was the custom of using 
letters as a part of the biographical method. Letters had 
been used, as we have seen, in one way and another since 
Eddius* Life of Wilfrid, and particularly since the days of 
Izaak Walton. Gilbert Burnet had made excellent use of 
correspondence in his Life of Bishop Bedell, as had Bishop 
Racket in Scrinia Reserata. Richard Parr had appended 
to the Life of Usher " a collection of three hundred letters 
between the said Lord Primate and most of the eminentest 
persons for piety and learning in his time, both in England 
and beyond the seas." Middleton in his Life of Cicero had 
incorporated Cicero's correspondence into the narrative of 
the life. The custom was in keeping with the steadily grow 
ing interest of the public in letters and letter-writing, an 
interest that began as early as 1664, when Margaret 
Duchess of Newcastle published a collection of 211 letters 
descriptive of London life. In 1678 came the translation of 
the " Portuguese Letters," followed by a translation of the 
letters of Eloisa and Abelard. Before the first quarter of the 
eighteenth century had passed a number of short stories in 
letter form, of which the Letters of Lindamira may be taken 

1 See Austin Dobson, Eighteenth Century Studies, chap. " Gray's 
Biographer." Dent's " Wayfarers' Library." 


as an example, came into existence. Taking advantage of 
this interest in letter-writing, Rivington and Osborne, 
publishers, in 1739 engaged Samuel Richardson to compose 
a volume of Familiar Letters as a guide or " handy letter- 
writer " for the uneducated. Catching inspiration from 
his work on this volume, Richardson put it aside for the 
time and turned to the writing of Pamela (published in 
1740). All of Richardson's novels are written in the form of 
consecutive letters. In this manner, the development of 
the English novel and of English biography ran parallel 
for/a* number of years. 

season, however, did not insert Gray's letters merely as 
a part of the narrative; he used them to tell the story of 
Gray's life: in o^.er words, he attempted to make Gray his 
own biographer.^! In regard to introducing the letters, 
Mason says : " I am well aware that I am here going to do 
a thing which the cautious and courtly Dr. Sprat (were he 
now alive) would highly censure. He had, it seems, a large 
collection of his friend Mr. Cowley's letters, * a way of 
writing in which he particularly excelled, as in these he 
always expressed the native tenderness and innocent gaiety 
of hisheart ' : yet the Doctorwas of theopinion that 'nothing 
of this nature should be published and that the letters that 
pass between particular friends (if they are written as they 
ought to be) can scarce ever be fit to see the light.' What 1 
not when they express the native tenderness and innocent 
gaiety of a heart like Mr. Cowley's ? No, by no means, * for 
in such letters the souls of men appear undressed, and in 
that negligent habit they may be fit to be seen by one or 
two in a chamber, but not to go abroad in the street.' Such 
readers as believe it incumbent on every well-bred soul 
never to appear but in full dress will think that Dr. Sprat 
has reason on his side; but I suspect that the generality will, 
notwithstanding, wish hehad been less scrupulously delicate, 


and lament 1 that the letters in question are not now 
extant." 2 As to his purpose, Mr. Mason continues: " In 
a word, Mr. Gray will become his own biographer, both in 
this and the rest of the sections into which I divide the 
work. By which means, and by the assistance of a few 
notes which I shall occasionally add, it may be hoped that 
nothing will be omitted which may tend to give a regular 
and clear delineation of his life and character." 3 

As an innovator, Mason felt constrained to defend or, at 
least, to explain his object thoroughly: " The method in 
which I have arranged the foregoing pages," he writes, " has, 
I trust, one degree of merit that it makes the reader so 
well acquainted with the man himself, as to render it 
totally unnecessary to conclude the whole with his char 
acter. If I am mistaken in this point, I have been a compiler 
to little purpose; and I chose to be this rather than a bio 
grapher, that I might do the more justice to the virtues and 
genius of my friend. I might have written his life in the 
common form perhaps with more reputation to myself; but 
surely not with equal information to the reader : for whose 
sake I have never related a single circumstance of Mr. Gray's 
life in my own words, when I could employ bis for the pur 
pose. Fortunately, I had more materials for this use than 
commonly fall to the lot of an editor; and I certainly have 
not been sparing in the use of them : whether I have been 
too lavish, must be left to the decision of the public." 4 In 
the face of these utterances, however, Mason was so much 
under the influence of his age that he appended a brief 

1 Cf. what Coleridge has to say: " What literary man has not 
regretted the prudery of Sprat in refusing to let his friend Cowley 
appear in his slippers and dressing-gown? " Biographia Liter aria, 
Edition of J. Shawcross, vol. i. p. 44. 

1 The Poems of Mr. Gray. To which are prefixed Memoirs of his life 
and writings by W. Mason, M.A., York, 1775, p. 4, note. 

3 Ibid. p. 5. 

4 Ibid. pp. 400-1. 


character of Gray from the pages of the London Magazine, 
excusing himself for so doing in these words : " I might here 
lay down my pen, yet if any reader should still want his 
character, I will give him one which was published very 
soon after Mr. Gray's decease. It appears to be well written; 
and as it comes from an anonymous pen, 1 I choose the 
rather to insert it, as it will, on that account, be less 
suspected of partiality." 2 Thus carefully did Mr. Mason 
proceed in his innovation. 

Three years after the publication of Mason's Life of Gray, 
Samuel Johnson entered into that agreement with a com 
pany of London booksellers to furnish " little Lives and 
little Prefaces, to a little edition of The English Poets," 
which resulted in a finished body of magnificently mingled 
biography and criticism of fifty-two English poets. These 
were originally published in the old and long-established 
manner as introductory to the works of each separate 
poet. Johnson's work marks no great advance in the 
development of biography save that introduction of philo 
sophical criticism which has ever since marked them as 
classics in their field. Johnson wrote much in the mood of 
Izaak Walton out of a full mind and without exhaustive 
research. As a matter of fact, he thoroughly disliked 
grubbing in " the rubbish of antiquity " for biographical 
materials: such a nineteenth -century work as Aitken's 
Life of Richard Steele he would never have taken the 
trouble to produce. He little valued the mere mechanical 
work which any one of ordinary ability could perform ; he 
would have had little in common with Freytag's Magister 
Knips. " To adjust the minute events of literary history," 

1 The author was William Temple. The character was written in a 
letter to Boswell, July 30, 1771, who published it without authority 
in the London Magazine, March 1772, p. 140. Johnson likewise made 
use of it in his Life of Gray. 

* Poems and Memoirs, pp. 401-2. 


he asserted, " is tedious and troublesome: it requires indeed 
no great force of understanding, but often depends upon 
inquiries which there is no opportunity of making, or is to 
be fetched from books and pamphlets not always at hand." * 
In this belief, he proceeded in his own way, and confessed 
in his Prayers and Meditations : " Some time in March 
[1781] I finished the Lives of the Poets, which I wrote in my 
usual way, dilatorily and hastily, unwilling to work, and 
working with vigour and haste." In consequence, the 
Lives of the Poets owe their value rather to the manner in 
which they reflect the powerful and original mind of the 
Literary Dictator who dared to write in his own way, than 
to any completeness or scrupulous care in literary research. 
To be sure, Johnson gathered and preserved a large mass of 
history and floating tradition which might otherwise have 
perished, and as a result made a permanent contribution to- 
literary history. The course of English biography since 1781 
has been, however, entirely away from the method of hap 
hazard composition which he followed. Notwithstanding 
this fact, the sane attitude of Johnson towards the pane 
gyric element, the critical discourses united with the 
biographies, the clearness and straightforwardness of the 
style, the unity resulting from the idea always kept before 
the mind of the author that he was " writing a life and not 
a death," all combine to make the Lives of the Poets worthy 
of a secure place in the history of the development of 
English biography. 

The rapid increase of public interest in biographical 
narratives during forty years is shown by a comparison of 
the number of lives immediately following the death of Pope 
and of Johnson. Within two weeks of Johnson's death, 
there appeared anonymously, Thr 

Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D., with occasional Remarks on 
1 In the Life of Dry den. 


his writings, an Authentic Copy of his Will, and a Catalogue 
of his Works, now known to be the work of William Cooke. 1 
This was followed in 17^85 by William $haw's~Memoirs of 
the Life and Writings of the late Dr. Samuel Johnson ; in 
1786, by Mrs. Piozzi's The Anecdotes of the late Samuel 
Johnson, LL.D., during the last twenty years of his life and 
Dr. Joseph Towers' An Essay on the Life, Character, and 
Writings of Dr. Samuel Johnson; in 1787 by Sir John 
Hawkins' Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D. ; and in 1791 by 
James Boswell's Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D. Thus we 
have by 1791 a total of six Lives, besides the sketch by 
"* Thomas Tyers in the Gentleman's Magazine, 2 and The 
Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson, LL.D. 
published by Boswell in 1785. Biography and in par 
ticular the biography of the literary man had thus after 
many centuries taken its secure place in the literature of 
the English-speaking peoples a place which it has steadily 
maintained to the present. 

/ * We have now come to a consideration of James Boswell's 
I Life of Johnson, that work toward which all English bio 
graphy before 1791 tends, and to which all since that date 
looks, back reminiscently. The mere mention of English 
biography suggests to the^.^rerage person Boswell's Life of 
Johnson. Now we must not consider Boswell as a surprising 
development or unlooked-for prodigy, although there is no 
doubt that many do look upon him in some such light. It 
has already been said that he was the careful student of 
those who before him had written biography, as well as 

1 The issue of the Gentleman's Magazine of December 1784, 
contains, on pp. 992-3, a harsh notice of this hpok, in which this 
sentence occurs: " As it is notorious that this lAfe was annqunced 
before the Doctor had been two days dead, ^nd Was published on 
the ninth morning after the world was deprived of its greatest 
literary ornament, a few trifling inaccuracies will of course be 
expected, and pardoned by the indulgent reader." 

a December 1784, pp. 891-911. 


the fortunate worker who produced a type of the true 
method for which all had been striving. As a zealous 
Johnsonian disciple, he could scarcely have missed being 
a biographer. We are now, however, face to face with the 
questions, How did it come about that Boswell fulfilled the 
true method of biography ? and, Just what development in 
the history of the form does he mark ? 

Before turning directly to a consideration of these ques 
tions, it may be well to say that the " fulness of the times " 
had arrived; the opportunity for a great biographer was 
at hand. The taste for the form was strong; the interest 
in literary gossip was keen; all the elements entering into 
biographical narrative were fully appreciated. Moreover, 
a great man perhaps England's greatest literary dictator 
was demanding a biographer. And very diligently did a 
number of writers endeavour to supply the demand, and 
very well did some of them approximate success. Mrs. 
Piozzi, bright and vivacious, but with all the defects of 
brightness and vivacity, coupled with the Blue-Stocking 
superficiality and dilettantism, pressed too soon into print. 
She came very close to supplying what the public demanded; 
the Anecdotes, however, were too fragmentary to be a Life, 
too hastily and carelessly thrown together to be satisfying. 
Sir John Hawkins likewise pressed feverishly into the 
field by a too zealous desire for both profit and fame, which 
allowed him no time for careful writing and revision, and 
cursed by a discursiveness which marked him as a second 
Asser, or Herbert of Bosham, achieved only a brief 
triumph. 1 Only James Boswell, laughed at by many, 

1 " I have not read more than one half of Sir John Hawkins, whose 
book I met with at Crewe Hall. It was dull and confused, and 
impertinent, and illiterate, and with all these faults, it somehow or 
other interested me." Samuel Parr in letter to Henry Homer, 
Nov. 20, 1788, quoted in John Johnstone's Memoirs of Parr, p. 4, 


unappreciated by almost all, 1 through scorn and ridicule, 
through melancholy and despair, buoyed up by a strong 
reliance on his own powers, " patient in his simple faith 
sublime," toiled steadily on for almost seven years. 2 He 
allowed Mrs. Piozzi and Sir John Hawkins to attempt the 
satisfaction of the public appetite; his own magnum opus 
must be held back until it was worthy of its great subject. 
Whatever else we may say of Boswell, we must admit that 
he had the strength to work and to wait ; he had the grace 
to pay the price demanded for the production of worth 
while work. 

And now we are ready to examine the method followed 
by Boswell in the production of the Life of Johnson. This 
it is not difficult for us to do; for Boswell has been careful 
to state fully the principles which he kept before himself. 
It is only necessary, therefore, to gather these together in 
his own words. 

1 Richard Twiss, in a letter to Sir W. Scott, afterwards Lord 
Stowell, after pressing him to undertake the task of writing John 
son's biography, and alluding to the report that Doctor Percy 
" was already engaged in the business," continued: " Nor am I 
better pleased with the report that Sir John Hawkins or Mr. Boswell 
would perform the task : I do not think either of them equal to the 
work ; the one is a puppy, the other a pedant : suffer not, I beseech 
you, the life of so excellent a man to be written by such puny fellows : 
more abilities are required than possessed by all three: rescue his 
memory from all such mean hands." " This not very sagacious 
person," writes Percy Fitzgerald, " was happily not to have his 
own way; but the appeal is valuable, as showing what was the 
general feeling as to Boswell's fashion of dealing with biography." 
Life of James Boswell, vol. ii. pp. 104-5. 

a " Never was a work written under such struggles and depressing 
conditions. He had, however, the most extraordinary faith in its 
success, and long hesitated about accepting an offer of 1000 for it." 
Fitzgerald, Life of James Boswell, vol. ii. pp. 1 1 5-6. Cf . also, this 
extract from Boswell's letter to Wm. Temple: " I am absolutely 
certain that my mode of biography, which gives not only a history 
of Johnson's visible progress through the world, and of his publica 
tions, but a view of his mind in his letters and conversations, is the 
most perfect that can be conceived, and will be more of a Life than 
any work that has yet appeared." 


" Instead " (writes Boswell) " of melting down my materials into 
one mass, and constantly speaking in my own person ... I have 
resolved to adopt and enlarge upon the excellent plan of Mr. Mason, 
in his Memoirs of Gray. Wherever narrative is necessary to explain, 
connect, and supply, I furnish it to the best of my abilities; but in 
the chronological series of Johnson's life, which I trace as distinctly 
as I can, year by year, I produce, wherever it is in my power, his own 
minutes, letters, or conversation, being convinced that this method 
is more lively, and will make my readers better acquainted with 
him, than even most of those were who actually knew him, but 
could know him only partially; whereas there is here an accumula 
tion of intelligence from various points, by which his character is 
more fully understood and appreciated. 

" Indeed I cannot conceive a more perfect method of writing any ^ 
man's life, than not only relating all the most important events of 
it in their order, but interweaving what he privately wrote, and said, 
and thought. ... I will venture to say that he will be seen in this 
work more completely than any man who has ever yet lived. 

" And he will be seen as he really was, for I profess to write, not his 
panegyric, which must be all praise, but his Life; which, great and 
good as he was, must not be supposed to be entirely perfect. To be j 
as he was, is indeed subject of panegyric enough to any man in this 
state of being : but in every picture there should be shade as well as / 
light, and when I delineate him without reserve, I do what he himsej^ 7 
recommended, both by his precept and his example." 

[Here Boswell quotes the last paragraph of Rambler, No. 60, in 
which occurs Johnson's statement, " If we owe regard to the memory 
of the dead, there is yet more respect to be paid to Knowledge, to 
virtue and to truth."] 

y What I consider as the peculiar value of the following work, i*, 
thV-quantity it contains of Johnson's conversation . . . of which 
the specimens that I have given upon a former occasion [in a Journal 
of a Tour to the Hebrides, 1785], have been received with so much 
approbation, that I have good ground for supposing that the world 
will not be indifferent to more ample communications of a similar 

" If authority be required, let us appeal to Plutarch, the prince 
of ancient biographers. . . . ' Nor is it always in the most distinguished 
achievements that men's virtues or vices may be best discerned; / 
but very often an action of small note, a short saying, or a jest, shall / 
distinguish a person's real character more than the greatest sieges 
or the most important battles.' 


" To this may be added the sentiments of the very man whose life 
I am about to exhibit. 

" 'The business of the biographer is often to pass slightly over 
those performances and incidents which produce vulgar greatness, 
to lead the thoughts into domestic privacies, and display the minute 
details of daily life, where exterior appendages are cast aside, and 
men excel each other only by prudence and by virtue. The account 
of Thuanus is with great propriety said by its author to have been 
written, that it might lay open to posterity the private and familiar 
character of that man, cujus ingenium et candorem ex ipsius scnptis 
sunt olim semper miratun, whose candour and genius will to the end 
of time be by his writings preserved in admiration. 

" ' There are many invisible circumstances, which whether we 
read as enquiries after natural or moral knowledge, whether we 
intend to enlarge our science, or increase our virtue, are more 
important than public occurrences. Thus Sallust, the great master 
of nature, has not forgot in his account of Catiline to remark, that 
his walk was now quick, and again slow, as an indication of a mind 
revolving with violent commotion. Thus the story of Melancthon 
affords a striking lecture on the value of time, by informing us, that 
when he had made an appointment, he expected not only the hour, 
but the minute to be fixed, that the day might not run out in the 
idleness of suspense; and all the plans and enterprises of De Witt 
are now of less importance to the world than that part of his personal 
character, which represents him as careful of his health, and negli 
gent of his life. 

" ' But biography has often been allotted to writers, who seem very 
little acquainted with the nature of their task, or very negligent 
about the performance. They rarely afford any other account than 
might be collected from public papers, but imagine themselves 
writing a life when they exhibit a chronological series of actions or 
preferments ; and have so little regard to the manners or behaviour 
of their heroes, that more knowledge may be gained of a man's real 
character, by a short conversation with one of his servants, than 
from a formal and studied narrative, begun with his pedigree, and 
ended with his funeral. 

" 'There are indeed, some natural reasons why these narratives are 
often written by such as were not likely to give much instruction 
or delight, and why most accounts of particular persons are barren 
and useless. Tf a life be delayed till interest and envy are at end, we 
may hope i r impartiality, but must expect little intelligence; for 
the incident, vvhich give excellence to biography are of a volatile 
and evanescent kind, such as soon escape the memory, and are 


transmitted by tradition. We know how few can pourtray a living 
acquaintance, except by his most prominent and observable par 
ticularities, and the grosser features of his mind; and it may be 
easily imagined how much of this knowledge may be lost in impart 
ing it, and how soon a succession of copies will lose all resemblance 
to the original.' l 

" I am fully aware of the objections which may be made to the 
minuteness on some occasions of my detail of Johnson's conversa 
tion, and how happily it is adapted for the petty exercise of ridicule 
by men of superficial understanding and ludicrous fancy\but I 
remain firm and confident in my opinion, that minute particulars 
are frequently charactefistick, and always amusing, when they relate 
to a distinguished man. JU am therefore exceedingly unwilling that 
anything, however sligBt)' which my illustrious friend thought ifc^ 
worth his while to express, with any degree of point, should perish. 1 
For this almost superstitious reverence, I have found very old and 
venerable authority, quoted by our great modern prelate. Seeker, 
in whose tenth sermon there is the following passage : 

" ' Rabbi David Kimchi, a noted Jewish Commentator, who lived 
about five hundred years ago, explains that passage in the first 
Psalm, His leaf also shall not wither, from Rabbins yet older than 
himself, thus : That even the idle talk, so he expresses it, of a good 
man ought to be regarded ; the most superfluous things he saith are 
always of some value. And other ancient authorities have the same 
phrase, nearly in the same sense.' " 

From these quotations it can be seen that Boswell was a 
careful student of bioasaphy, and that he built upon founda 
tions laid in the pastj Every method employed in the Life 
of Johnson had, to a certain extent, been practised by 
previous writers of biography. jThus, the use of letters had 
grown, along with the interest-ill letter-writing, from Roper 
through Walton, Burnet, Parr, Racket, and Mason; the 
practice of recording familiar anecdotes had steadily 
advanced from Aubrey to Sperici and Johnson, had been 
essayed by Boswell himself in A journal of the lour to the 
Hebrides, and firmly established by the public reception 
accorded to Mrs. Piozzi's Anecdotes of Johnson; the 

1 Rambler, No. 60. The reader will observe that, for the most part, 
Johnson has merely amplified Plutarch's statement. 
1 Life of Johnson, Hill's edition, vol. i. pp. 29-33. 


growing distaste for panegyric had culminated in Johnson's 
attitude towards it, and, of course, Boswell, as Johnson's 
disciple, could not be a panegyrist,4 Finally, the recording 
of conversation, of which there has always. been in English 
biography a little, was perfected by BoswelJ. It can readily 
be seen, in conclusion, that Boswell has simply taken 
Plutarch's nut-shell statement, and followed it faithfully. 1 
Through so many centuries had practice followed theory! 
before catching up with her. 

Before the publication of Boswell's Life of Johnson, 
public opinion had been much divided upon several points 
in regard to biography. Addison had written in 1716: 
" The truth of it is, as the lives of great men cannot be 
written with any tolerable degree of elegance or exactness 
within a short space after their decease; so neither is it fit 
that the history of a person who has acted among us in a 
public character, should appear, until envy and friendship 
are laid asleep, and the prejudice both of his antagonists 
and adherents be, in some degree, softened and subdued. 
... It were happy for us, could we prevail upon ourselves 
to imagine that one who differs from us in opinion can 
possibly be an honest man; and that we might do the same 
justice to one another which will be done us hereafter by 
those who shall make their appearance in the world when 
this generation is no more. But in our present miserable 
and divided condition, how just soever a man's pretensions 
may be to a great or blameless reputation, he must expect 
his share of obloquy and reproach; and even with regard 
to his posthumous character, content himself with such a 
kind of consideration as induced the famous Sir Francis 
Bacon, after having bequeathed his soul to God and his 
body to the earth, to leave his fame to foreign nations; 
and, after some years, to his own country." l In opposition 
1 Freeholder, No. 35. 


to this opinion, that of Johnson has already been given, the 
tenor of which is that if lives are delayed the salient features 
will be forgotten and lost. 

In 1787, George Home, D.D., formerly president of 
Magdalen College, Oxford, and afterwards Bishop of 
Norwich, defended the biographers who " seem conscien 
tiously to have followed the rule laid down by him [Johnson] 
Sir, if one man undertake to write the life of another, he 
undertakes to exhibit his true and real character: but this 
can be done only by a faithful and accurate delineation 
of the particulars which discriminate that character." 
In closing his defence, Bishop Home says : " On the whole 
In the memoirs of him that have been published, there 
are so many witty sayings, and so many wise ones, by 
which the world, if it so please, may be at once entertained 
and improved, that I do not regret their publication. In 
this, as in all other instances, we are to adopt the good and 
reject the evil. The little stories of his oddities and his 
infirmities in common life will, after a while, be overlooked 
and forgotten; but his writings will live forever, still more 
and more studied and admired, while Britons shall continue 
to be characterised by a love of elegance and sublimity, 
of good sense and virtue. The sincerity of his repentance, 
the steadfastness of his faith, and the fervour of his charity, 
forbid us to doubt, that his sun set in clouds, to rise without 
them: and of this let us always be mindful, that every one 
who is made better by his books will add a wreath to his 
crown." 1 Something over a month later, George Canning, 
writing of his fictitious Gregory Griffin, launched these 
shafts of satire at the Johnsonian biographers: " It must 
be confessed that I have for some time intended (and have 
collected materials for the purpose) as the eyes of the 
world must infallibly be fixed on his exit, to favour it after 
1 Olla Podrida, No. 13, June 9, 


Mr. G.'s demise, with a collection of Anecdotes, Stories, 
Smart Sayings, Witty Repartees, Funny Jokes, and Shining 
Sentiments, under the comprehensive title of Griffiniana. 
... I have however been once on the point of dropping 
the design, when it was represented to me by a friend, on 
whose judgment I had great reliance, c that I should act 
unworthily as a biographer, and ungenerously as a friend, 
in endeavouring to reduce the name of Mr. Griffin by such 
a publication to the level of Joe Miller and Tom Brown; 
and in rashly bringing to light, such uninteresting and 
trifling effusions of momentary mirth, or occasional levity, 
as would detract from the weight of his other performances ; 
and such, as from their own intrinsic worth, could only 
pass without ridicule, when they passed without public 
observation.' " l In a more broadly satirical vein, Peter 
Pindar (Dr. John Wolcot) had produced his celebrated 
Bozzy and Piozzi, or the British Biographers, in 1786. 

In No. II of Lucubrations, or Winter Evenings,* Vice- 
simus Knox wrote " On the Character of Doctor Johnson 
and the Abuse of Biography." In the course of his remarks 
he says : " Few men could stand so fiery a trial as he 
[Johnson] has done. . . . Biography is every day descending 
from its dignity. Instead of an instructive recital, it is 
becoming an instrument to the mere gratification of an 
impertinent, not to say malignant, curiosity. There are 
certain foibles and weaknesses which should be shut up in 
the coffin with the poor relics of fallen humanity. Wher 
ever the greater part of a character is shining, the few 
blemishes should be covered with the pall. I am apprehen 
sive that the custom of exposing the nakedness of eminent 
men of every type, will have an unfavourable influence on 
virtue. It may teach men to fear celebrity; and by extin- 

1 Microcosm, No. 39, July 30, 1787. 
8 First edition published 1788. 


guishing the desire of fame and posthumous glory, destroy 
one powerful motive to excellence. ... I think there is 
reason to fear lest the moral writings of Johnson should lose 
something of their effect by this unfortunate degradation. 
... It was usual to write the lives of great men con amort, 
with affection for them, and there ran a vein of panegyric 
with the narrative. Writer and reader agreed in loving the 
character, and the reader's love was increased and con 
firmed by the writer's representation. An ardour of imita 
tion was thus excited, and the hero of the story placed, 
without one dissenting voice, in some honourable niche in 
the temple of Fame. But this biographical anatomy, in 
minutely dissecting parts, destroys the beauty of the whole. 
... I wish that his life had been written in the manner of 
the French elogts,and with the affection and reverence due to 
supereminent merit. ... If he were alive, he would crush 
the swarms of insects that have attacked his character, 
and with one sarcastic blow, flap them into non-existence." 
In the face of such diverse opinions did Boswell proceed 
with his labours. It is a sure testimony to his biographical 
skill and artistic sense that, in the very face of this conflict 
of opinion, he held to his own notion and produced a bio 
graphy which remains a standard of excellence, and of 
which all succeeding biographies have been only variations. 
It must have been with feelings of the deepest satisfaction 
that Boswell read in the Gentleman's Magazine for May 
1791, this^entence in review of the completed Life of 
Johnson : \^A literary portrait is here presented which all 
who knew the original will allow to be the MAN HIMSELF."^/ 
The observations written by Robert Anderson, M.D., in 
his all-but-forgotten compilation from the narratives of 
Hawkins, Boswell, and Murphy, are well worthy of a place 
here as a summary of contemporary npinipn. Much has 
l Vol.6i. p. 466. 


been written of Bos well since 1791: very little of what 
has been written excels Anderson's just remarks : " The 
narrative of Mr. Boswell is written with more comprehen 
sion of mind, accuracy of intelligence, clearness of narration, 
and elegance of language [than are any of the others]; and 
is more strongly marked by the desiderium chari capitis, 
which is the first feature of affectionate remembrance . . . 
and was received by the world with most extraordinary 
avidity. . . . Xenophon's Memorabilia of Socrates may 
possibly have suggested to Mr. Boswell the idea of present 
ing and giving to the world the Memorabilia of his vener 
able friend; * but he professes to have followed the model 
of Mason in his Memoirs of Gray. He has, however, the 
advantage of Mason, in the quantity, variety, and richness 
of his materials. . . . The incidental conversations between 
so eminent an instructor of mankind, and his friends, the 
numerous body of anecdotes, literary and biographical, and 
the letters which are occasionally interspersed, and natur 
ally introduced, in the narrative part of Mr. Boswell's 
ample performance, open and disclose to the eager curiosity 
of rational and laudable inquiry, an immense storehouse 
of mental treasure, which far exceeds, in merit and value, 
the voluminous collections of the learned and ingenious 
men of other nations. With some venial exceptions on the 
score of egotism and indiscriminate admiration, his work 
exhibits the most copious, interesting, and finished picture 
of the life and opinions of an eminent man, that was ever 
executed; and is justly esteemed one of the most instruc 
tive and entertaining books in the English language. The 
eccentricities of Mr. Boswell it is useless to detail. They 
have already been the subject of ridicule in various different 
forms and publications, by men of superficial understanding 

1 See Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides, p. 407, Dent's " Tempi/ 


and ludicrous fancy. Many have supposed him to be a 
mere relater of the sayings of others; but he possessed 
considerable intellectual powers, for which he has not had 
sufficient credit. It is manifest to every reader of any 
discernment, that he could never have collected such a 
mass of information, and just observations on human life, 
as his very valuable work contains, without great strength 
of mind, and much various knowledge, as he never could 
have displayed his collections in so lively a manner, had he 
not possessed a very picturesque imagination; or in other 
words, had he not had a very happy turn for poetry, as well 
as for humour and for wit." l 

An "explanation" of Boswell may be left for others; 
it will perhaps be enough to repeat here that apart from 
any other considerations, he paid the price necessary for 
the production of such a work, in labour of the severest 
and most sustained kind. " I have sometimes been obliged," 
he writes, " to run half over London, in order to fix a date 
correctly; which, when I had accomplished, I well knew 
would attain me no praise, though a failure would have 
been to my discredit." 2 Such carefulness in mere matters 
of detail is, of course, of minor importance; Boswell was 
willing, in addition, to subject himself to ridicule in the 
attempt to bring his work up to his ideal of what it should 
be. " A trick which I have seen played on common occa 
sions, of sitting stealthily down at the other end of the room 
to write at the moment what should be said in company, 
either by Dr. Johnson or to him, I never practised myself, 
nor approved of in another," writes Mrs. Piozzi. 8 True 
enough; it need only be said in reply, however, that Mrs. 

1 The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D., with Critical Observations on 
his Works, London, 1795, pp. 4-8. 

1 Advertisement to first edition of the Life. 

' Napier's Johnsoniana, p. 20; Mrs. Piozzi's Anecdotes of Johnson, 
p. 44- 


Piozzi could not produce Boswell's Life of Johnson ! Again, 
we must keep in mind the weary night hours spent by 
Boswell in recording the conversations while they were yet 
fresh in mind, before that " elusive and evanescent " 
quality had passed from them. When these and other like 
considerations are borne in mind, Boswell must have, at 
least in regard to the preparation of the Life, the honour 
due to one who, for the sake of the accomplishment of a 
great purpose, knew how 

" To scorn delights, and live laborious days." 

A comparison of Boswell and John Aubrey may not be 
out of place in this connexion. The two men had many 
traits of character in common: both were erratic and 
laughed at by their contemporaries. " He was a shiftless 
person," wrote Anthony Wood * of John Aubrey, " roving 
and magotieheaded, and sometimes little better than 
erased. And being exceedingly credulous, would stuff his 
many letters sent to A. W. with folliries, and misinforma 
tions, which sometimes would guid him into the paths of 
errour." The difference between the two men, and, in 
particular, the superiority of Boswell that spark of genius 
within him which his contemporaries did not recognise is 
in nothing more clearly emphasised than in the result of 
their literary efforts. Aubrey left nothing but fragments 
highly interesting and most valuable to be sure but still 
fragments. Boswell left a great and artistic work which he 
was bold enough to compare and not without reason to 
one of the world's greatest literary achievements. 2 

*In The Life of Anthony Wood, Written by himself, Athenae 
Oxonienses, vol. i. p. Ix. edition Philip Bliss, 1813. 

* " It seems to me, in my moments of self-complacency, that this 
extensive biographical work, however inferior in its nature, may in 
one respect be assimilated to the Odyssey. Amidst a thousand enter 
taining and instructive episodes the Hero is never long out of sight; 
for they are all in some degree connected with him; and He in the 


We may safely conclude that BoswelFs work was a work 
of culmination: he did what other men for long had said 
should be done, or what they had tried, feebly, to do. 1 
Almost the only contribution made by him was the manner 
and the amount of recorded conversation; nothing equal 
to it had ever before been known. Yet not for this reason 
need we detract from BoswelTs labours; present-day 
criticism is telling us that the Iliad and the Odyssey are but 
compilations " culminations," if you will. Those who 
cast these works into their final forms are sure of their place 
in the Temple of Fame. Professor Walter Raleigh justly^" 
says : " The accident which gave Boswell to Johnson and / 
Johnson to Boswell is one of the most extraordinary pieces . 
of good fortune in literary history. Boswell was a man o^ 
genius ; the idle paradox which presents him in the likeness ^ 
of a lucky dunce was never tenable by serious Criticism, 
and has long since been rejected by all who bring though\ 
to bear on the problems of literature. ... He had simpli- \ 
city, candour, fervour, a warmly affectionate nature, a 
quick intelligence, and a passion for telling all that he knejjj**-* 
These are qualities which make for good literature. They 
enabled Boswell to portray Johnson with an intimacy a^d 
truth that has no parallel in any language. T . p-T^e 
Life would be a lesser work than it is if it had not the unity 
that was imposed upon it by the mind of its author*' ~Tne 
portrait is so broad and masterly, so nobly conceived and 

whole course of the History, is exhibited by the Author for the best 
advantage of his readers." Advertisement to second edition of the 
Life of Johnson. Cf., also, Percy Fitzgerald: " Mr. Boswell was, in 
his way, an artist; nothing is more remarkable in his great book 
than the tact, the self-denial, the power of selection, and the 
rejection of all that is surplusage." Life of James Boswell, vol. ii. 
P- 253- 

1 See George Birbeck Hill's interesting, but much too laudatory, 
article in Macmillan's Magazine, May 1891, pp. 37-43; and Percy 
Fitzgerald's caustic reply to it in the Life of James Boswell, vol. ii. 
pp. 281-4, note. 


so faithful in detail, that the world has been content to look 
at Johnson from this point of view and no other." l 

It must not be thought that Boswell produced a perfect 
life. " It cannot be denied," continues Professor Raleigh, 
" and Boswell himself would have been the first to admit it, 
that there are aspects and periods of Johnson's career which ' 
are not and could not be fully treated in the Life." 2 As has 
so often been said, the Johnson that Boswell knew was 
the Johnson of a privileged old age ; the lights and shades 
of those slow years of struggle to fame are not in Boswell's 
picture. What might not Richard Savage have painted, or 
helped Boswell to paint, into that portion of the canvas ? 
For that matter, what might not Goldsmith have done in 
that direction, who knew so much better than Boswell 
could ever have known what it meant to try to " set the 
Thames on fire " ? We should not forget, at this point, that 
Johnson once said, when asked in regard to his probable 
biographer, that " the dog [Goldsmith] would write his 
life best to be sure " 3 meaning of course that Goldsmith 
would give it most literary grace and charm. We should 
rejoice that Goldsmith did not live to write it; and should 
equally rejoice that deficient as the Life is in some particu 
lars, its production fell to the lot of James Boswell. More 
than a half century before BoswelPs Life was published, 
these words of Roger North were given to the public: " If 
the history of a life hangs altogether upon great import 
ances, such as concern the Church and State, and drops / 
the peculiar economy and private conduct of the person 
that gives title to the work, it may be a history, and a 
good one; but of anything rather than of that person's 
life. Some may think designs of that nature to be, like the 

1 Six Essays on Johnson, pp. 9-11. 
* Ibid. p. 1 1 . 

3 Napier's Johnsoniana, p. 15; Mrs. Piozzi's Anecdotes of Johnson, 
P- 3'. 


plots of Mr. Bays, good only to bring in fine things: but a 
life should be a picture; which cannot be good if the pecu 
liar features whereby the subject is distinguished from all 
others, are left out. Nay, scars and blemishes, as well as 
beauties, ought to be expressed; otherwise, it is but an 
outline filled up with roses and lilies." l True it is, the Life 
of Johnson is not perfect: it is, however, "a picture"; 
it is not " an outline filled up with roses and lilies." 

From the point of view of style, while the Life does not 
attain the highest rank, it is yet excellent. 2 f Although 
Boswell belonged to the formal school of theV^eighteenth 
century, he yet had much of the directness and clarity of 
Dryden and Addison, and had benefited by the conversa-^ 
tion of Johnson and by the style of the Lives of the Poets. / 
He was, moreover, in his desire to educate himself away ^ 
from Scotticisms, a diligent student of English composition. 
He did not, however, possess the grace and charm of Gold 
smith. It would be, perhaps, too much to demand that one 
man should attain the highest excellence in all departments 
of literary composition. Boswell had exemplified the method 
of writing biography; there were yet qualities to be contri 
buted to the general form; the great literary biography 
the combination of artistry and lucid, graceful, charming 
style was yet to be produced. 

Since 1791, the critics have been busy with Boswell. 
What they have said can in no way influence his finished 
labours, and their work therefore belongs only to a considera- 

1 Lives of the Norths, vol. i. p. 154, edition 1826. 

1 It is not going too far to agree with Percy Fitzgerald : " Too much 
cannot be said of Boswell's style. We may well wonder where he 
attained this happy, judicious power of narrative, so limpid and 
unaffected, and without the least literary realism, or attempt at 
colouring and ' word-painting.' His phrases and words are admir 
ably chosen, clear and direct without the least pretence. In particu 
lar passages, there is dramatic grouping of the highest kind." Life 
of James Boswell, vol. ii. p. 127. 


tion of the development of biography after Boswell's time. 
The summary of one modern writer may yet be to the 
purpose here : " By Mason and Boswell a species of litera 
ture was introduced into England which was destined to 
enjoy a popularity that never stood higher than it does at 
this moment. Biographies had up to this time been perfunc 
tory affairs, either trivial and unessential collections of 
anecdotes, or else pompous eulogies from which the breath 
of life was absent. 1 But Mason and Boswell made their 
heroes paint their own portraits by the skilful interpolation 
of letters, by the use of anecdotes, by the manipulation of 
the recollections of others; they adapted to biography the 
newly discovered formulas of the anti-romantic novelists, 2 
and aimed at the production of a figure that should be 
interesting, lifelike and true. . . . Boswell was a consum 
mate artist, but his sitter gave him a superb opportunity. 
For the first time, perhaps, in the history of literature, a 
great leader of intellectual society was able after his death 
to carry on unabated, and even heightened, the tyrannous 
ascendancy of his living mind. . . . Never before had the 
salient points in the character and habits of a man of genius 
been noted with anything approaching to this exactitude 
and copiousness, and we ought to be grateful to Boswell 
for a new species of enjoyment." 3 

1 This is not strictly accurate, as has been shown in this chapter. 

a Rather, the novelists adapted the methods of biography. 

' Edmund Gosse, Modern English Literature, pp. 252-3. May we 
not also be grateful that Samuel Parr did not become Johnson's 
biographer? The Rev. Wm. Field, in his Memoirs of Parr, vol. i. 
pp. 164-5, records Parr's own conception of the task: " ' I once 
intended to write Johnson's Life ; and I had read through three 
shelves of books to prepare myself for it. It would have contained 
a view of the literature of Europe : ' and making an apology for 
the proud consciousness which he felt of his own ability ' if I had 
written it,' continued he, ' it would have been the third most 
learned work that has ever yet appeared.' To explain himself, he 
afterwards added, ' The most learned work ever published, I con 
sider Bentley On the Epistles of Phalaris ; the next, Salmasius on 


Thus, at the close of the eighteenth century, did biography 
culminate in what the world has since been pleased to 
recognise as the true type. No one with the facts before 
him can claim for Boswell that he invented a new form, or 
wrote a perfect specimen of biography; but no one can 
deny that, although in execution he fell short of perfection 
(what mortal has yet attained it ?), in theory, purpose, plan, 
he pointed out the ideal. He was not an inventor or dis 
coverer, nor was he a mere theoriser. He was, in the field of 
biography, a careful student, a diligent worker, and, if not 
a perfect, at least a scarcely equalled, artist. The producer 
of the great type did not live long to enjoy his triumph: 
Boswell died May 19, 1795. The century produced no more 
great biographies: there were no more Johnsons for 
subjects; no more Boswells to act as biographers. To the 
nineteenth century, however, the eighteenth bequeathed 
a noble legacy. 

the Hellenistic language.' On a third occasion, describing the nature 
of his intended work, and alluding to Boswell's Life of Johnson, he 
said, ' Mine should have been, not the droppings of his lips, but the 
history of his mind.' " 




As a reader of biography approaches the close of the 
eighteenth century, he becomes aware that autobiography 
is assuming a position of the first importance. The state 
ments of Mason, " In a word, Mr. Gray will become his own 
biographer," and of Boswell, " Had Dr. Johnson written 
his own life . . . the world would probably have had the 
most perfect example of biography that was ever exhibited," 
convince us that biography is sure to become largely auto 
biographical in method. 1 It is necessary, then, at this point, 
where the biography and the autobiography join their 
currents, to trace the rise of the latter form and its develop 
ment to the close of the eighteenth century. 

First of all, the student is impressed by the same back 
wardness in development that was evident in the case of 
biography. Practically nothing in the way of autobiography 
had been published until after the middle of the seventeenth 
century; most of the early autobiographical documents 
lay in manuscript until the eighteenth century and after. 
Moreover, it should never be forgotten that even the word 
autobiography is modern: according to Murray's New 
English Dictionary thefirst recorded use of the term occurred 
in 1 809.2 Before this date, the autobiographical form passed 

1 One recalls Longfellow's punning entry in his journal, under 
date of Feb. 21, 1848: " What is autobiography ? What biography 
ought to be." S. Longfellow, Life of H. W. Longfellow, vol. ii. p. 109. 

a " A beautiful anthology may be formed from the Portuguese 
poets, but they have no great poem in their language. The most 
interesting, and the one which best pays perusal, has obtained no 
fame in its own country, and never been heard of beyond it. It is 


under various names: life narrative written by the author 
himself, memoirs, journal, diary, biography by self, history 
by self, etc. 

The other important matter to be kept in mind is the fact 
that the autobiographical element is everywhere to be 
found in literature. Every time a writer puts pen to paper 
he is in one way or another, to a greater or less extent, 
revealing himself. We must, however, in our considerations 
be careful. There may be autobiography in the Anglo- 
Saxon poems, Beowulf, Widsith the Far Wanderer, and 'The 
Lament of Deor, as well as in many another piece of Old and 
Early English literature that we might call to mind. Suppose, 
however, that we were unacquainted with the authorship 
of Tennyson's Maud, and that we should say, in our wisdom, 
Here is the author giving an account of his own life experi 
ences! The whole system of such inference is dangerous. 
Are Shakespeare's Sonnets autobiographical ? Wordsworth 
tells us * 

". . . with this key 
Shakespeare unlocked his heart; " 

to which Browning replies a 

" Did Shakespeare? If so, the less Shakespeare he! " 

After careful study and research, Sidney Lee has reached 
" the conviction that Shakespeare's collection of sonnets has 
no reasonable title to be regarded as a personal or auto 
biographical narrative." 8 And thus it goes. Unless we are 
certain, it is the part of wisdom not to claim as autobio- 

the life of Francisco Vieira, the painter, the best artist of his age, 
composed by himself. Much has been written concerning the lives 
of painters; and it is singular that this very amusing and unique 
specimen of auto-biography should have been entirely overlooked." 
Robert Southey, Quarterly Review, vol. i. p. 283, May 1809. See 
also p. 386 of the same volume where " auto-biography " again 

1 In Scorn not the Sonnet. In House. 

Life of Shakespeare, p. viii. 


graphical that which may not be so. 1 In this chapter, there 
fore, we shall limit ourselves to those productions which 
are truly autobiographic, or, at the least, autobiographic 
in intention. 

So far as this form is concerned, the Latin period is much 
less important, and therefore far more negligible than was 
the case in our consideration of biography. Ecgwin (or 
Egwin), Bishop of Worcester, who died about 720 A.D., 
is reported by later biographers 2 to have written his own 
life and is, for this reason, sometimes called the first 
English autobiographer. Henry Morley, in his English 
Writers, humorously suggests that Ecgwin might, on 
account of the many impossible tales of miracles which he 
told, " possibly be otherwise ranked with greater truth as 
the first English artist in prose fiction." s When we come 
to the Venerable Bede, however, we have a genuine piece 
of self-biography brief though it may be written about 
731. This sketch is appended to the Ecclesiastical History of 
England (sect. 454) and reads thus : 

" Being born in the territory of that same monastery [of the 
blessed apostles Peter and Paul, which is atWearmouth and J arrow], 
I was given by the care of my relatives, at seven years of age, to be 
educated by the most reverend abbot Benedict, and afterwards by 
Ceolfrid ; and from that period, spending all the remaining time of my 
life in that monastery, I wholly applied myself to the study of the Scrip 
tures ; and amidst the observance of regular discipline, and the daily 
care of singing in the Church, I always took delight in learning, teach 
ing, and writing. In the nineteenth year of my age I received deacon's 
orders; in the thirtieth, those of the priesthood; both of them by 

1 1 have read Percy Fitzgerald's interesting and ingenious volume, 
Boswell's Autobiography, the main thesis of which is that the Life 
of Johnson was put forth as " a disguised life of Boswell himself." 
For many reasons, I confess myself unconverted to Mr. Fitzgerald's 

* See Chrontcon Abbatiae de Evesham, ad annum 1418. Edited by 
William Dunn Macray, 1863 (Rolls Series). 

8 Vol. i. pp. 338-40. 


the ministry of the most reverend bishop John, and by order of the 
abbot Ceolfrid. From which time, when I received the order of 
priesthood, till the fifty-ninth year of my age, I have made it my 
business, for the use of me and mine, briefly to compile out of the 
works of the venerable Fathers, and to interpret and explain 
according to their meaning, (adding somewhat of my own,) these 
following pieces: [here follows a list of his works]." * 

For our purpose, we need not linger amid the welter of 
Latin church documents in the centuries which succeeded 
Bede. They contain little of intrinsic value as documents 
of self-revelation, and have exerted no influence on auto 
biography written in English. Bede's sketch is the proto 
type of all such attempts at autobiography among early 
churchmen. " In the Middle Ages," writes Professor Walter 
Raleigh, " a writer was wholly identified with his work. His 
personal habits and private vicissitudes of fortune excited 
little curiosity: Vincent of Beauvais and Godfrey of 
Viterbo are the names not so much of two men as of two 
books. Literature was regarded as the chief means of 
preserving and promulgating ancient truths and traditions; 
and authors were mechanical scribes, recorders, and com 
pilers. The distinction between fact and fiction, which we 
make to-day with so airy a confidence, was hardly known 
to the mediaeval writer. . . . While this was the dominant 
conception of art and of science, of history and of literature, 
authors were, in every sense of the word, a humble class. 
When it was their function to instruct, they were conduit 
pipes for the wisdom of the ages : where they set themselves 
to amuse, they held a rank not far above that of the 
professional jesters and minstrels who were attached as 
servitors to the household of some great lord or king." a 
From such men we do not look for any valuable self- 
records or introspective documents. To all practical intent, 

Translation of Stevenson, in The Church Historians of England. 
Essays on Johnson, pp. 98-100. 


therefore, from the point of view of autobiography, 
the period from 731 to 1573 may be regarded as a long 

Nor, for the same reason, need we linger long over the 
autobiographies written in Latin by other than churchmen. 
Among them is one, however, that for several reasons should 
not be neglected the work of Thomas Dempster, the 
Scotchman, whom we have already mentioned as the com 
piler of the Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Scotorum. Dempster 
himself looms up out of the past as one who was almost 
super-man " tall above the stature of common men; with 
black hair, and skin well-nigh of the same colour; his head 
immense, and his aspect kingly; his strength and courage 
equal to that of a soldier " (" CaeterumfuitDempsterus vir 
corpore, & animo egregius ; altitude illi super mediocrem 
vulgaris bominis magnitudinem ; coma subnigrior, & cuti 
color non longe dispar ; caput magnum ac totius corporis 
babitus plane regius ; robur, & ferocitas, quibus vel praestan- 
tissimum militem praestare posset, reque ipsa saepius se talem 
exhibuit ") to adopt the words of his friend, a certain 
Matthaeus Peregrinus, who added a supplement to Demp 
ster's Autobiography. This formidable giant, described by 
Rossi as " a man formed for war and contention, who 
hardly ever allowed a day to pass without fighting, either 
with his sword or his fists," seems to have been equally 
intense in applying himself to mental labour, it being no 
uncommon thing, according to Peregrinus, for him to spend 
fourteen hours a day in reading (" Indefessus in legendo, 
ita 9 ut quatuordecim diei boras librorum lectionem se con- 
tinuare solitum mibi saepe retulerit "). Peregrinus further 
states that Dempster's memory was such that he could 
give the context of any passage from Greek or Latin quoted 
to him (" non versus poetae alicuius non sensum alterius 
scriptoris, sen Graeci, seu Latini (aeque enim utrumque 


nor at,) quern statim cum longa verborum praecedentium, ac 
sequentum serie verbatim referre non posset"). 

Dempster's Autobiography is just what we should expect 
from such a man, and it may well be that his friend Pere- 
grinus followed him in habits of exaggeration and falsehood. 
The narrative is not long, but across its pages flash gleams 
of a laborious, tempestuous, grotesque career, darkened now 
and then by shadows of those wild days in Scotland and 
other European countries. There are in the work, as well 
in the main story and the minor episodes as in the manner 
of the narrative, the germs of much fiction : how much is 
true, how much is fabrication, we do not know. At the very 
outset, Dempster tells us that he was one of three children 
at a single birth, the twenty-fourth of twenty-nine children, 
and that five of the most important events of his life 
happened on the anniversary of his birth (" Thomas 
Dempsterus . . . natus est . . . partu Urgemino vigesimus 
quartus e liberis viginti novem quos ex una uxore pater sus- 
tulit anno MDlxxtx, ipso pervigilio D. Bartholomaei, quo 
die veluti fatali patriam deseruit, lauream in iure Doctoratus 
est assecutus, Academiae Nemausensi adscriptus, difficilis 
Tolosae litis exitum optatum sortitus, demum Serenissimi 
Magni Hetruriae Duds Academicis adnumeratus Pisanis"). 

As an example of his remarkable precocity, he assures 
us that at the age of three years he mastered the alphabet in 
the brief space of one hour (" triennis omnia elementa unius 
horae spatio exacte didicit "). Henry Bradley says * " there 
seems reason to suspect that he may have dated his birth 
a few years too late with the very object of enhancing the 
marvel of his youthful precocity in learning," and con 
tinues with the remark that " if the date assigned by him 
be correct, his career is certainly extraordinary, even for 
an age which abounded in juvenile prodigies." The ability 

1 Dictionary of National Biography, article " Thomas Dempster." 


to see a good story, indeed, was inherent in Dempster's 
nature. We have only to mention the episode in the life 
of his brother James. In a few lines, bristling with sug 
gestion, Dempster tells us how James incurred his father's 
hatred by marrying Isabella Gordon, the father's mistress; 
and how, later, James, collecting a band of wild Gordons, 
his wife's kinsmen, made an attack upon his father's retinue 
in a lonely region, where two were killed on either side, 
many were wounded, and the father left with seven bullets 
in his leg and a sword cut on his head. Without doubt, 
Dempster's story of his own life whether it be true to the 
letter or fiction to the core is the most readable article in 
his laboured volume. 1 Its very manner and content earn 
for it a place among autobiographies composed by Britons. 
Autobiography in English dates from the poetical narra 
tive of Thomas Tusser, published in its first form in 1573 
as a part of the author's Five Hundred Points of Good 
Husbandry. The manner of the work may be judged from 
the following stanzas: 

" It came to pass, that born I was 
Of lineage good, of gentle blood, 
In Essex layer, in village fair, 

That Rivenhall hight: 
Which village ly'd, by Banktree side; 
There spend did I mine infancy, 
There then my name, in honest fame, 
Remain'd in sight. 

" From Paul's I went, to Eton sent, 
To learn straightways, the Latin phrase, 
Where fifty-three stripes, given to me 

At once I had, 

For fault but small, or none at all, 
It came to pass, thus beat I was : 
See, Udall, see, the mercy of thee, 

To me, poor lad. 

1 The Autobiography is the last article in the Historia Ecclesiastica 
Gentis Scotorum. 


" To London hence, to Cambridge thence 
With thanks to thee, O Trinity, 
That to thy Hall, so passing all, 

I got at last. 

There joy I felt, there trim I dwelt, 
There heaven from hell, I shifted well 
With learned men, a number then, 

The time I past." l 

In this jingling, somewhat vague manner, without dates 
and usually without any careful reference to places or 
particulars, Tusser continues through forty stanzas to 
relate the outward events of his life. Thus much he gave as 
his " Life." We can learn far more of the inner man from 
his statement of the " Principal Points of Religion " and 
" The Author's Belief " than from the " Life " poem. 
This fact only demonstrates that we have made an advance 
in our demands upon autobiographers : whereas it used to 
be the custom to set forth outward events, it is to-day the 
custom to reveal, so far, of course, as it may be possible for 
the author to reveal, the inner man to give the breath of 
distinguishing individuality. This much may be said by 
way of anticipation: it remains to be seen how long auto 
biography continued to be objective. 

After Tusser, we have four brief autobiographies 
published within a reasonably short time after their com 
position. The few pages of the Life of Sir Thomas Bodley 
were, as he records, " written with mine own hand, Anno 
1609, December nth," although they were not printed 
until 1647. The oldest prose autobiography in English, 
therefore, reckoning from date of composition, Sir Thomas 
Bodley's Life ranks second in date of publication. It was 
preceded by An Apology written by Richard Vennar of 
Lincolnes Inne, abusively called England } s Joy, printed in 

1 Stanzas 3, 8, and 9, from Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandry 
(London, 1812), pp. 315-7. 


London in I6I4. 1 Vennar wrote his Apology to defend 
himself against charges of " slander, deceipt, fraud, and 
cozenage," or, as he declares on the title-page, " to repress 
the contagious ruptures of the infected multitude," incited 
against him by the questionable management of his play 
England's Joy, and by other unfortunate circumstances of 
which his life seems to have been only too full. While 
Vennar gives much information in regard to himself 
throughout the Apology, only the first part is avowedly 
autobiographical, and the whole of the production is 
marked by the dominant note of defence which occa 
sioned its composition. The autobiographical fragment of 
Margaret Cavendish Duchess of Newcastle appeared 
originally in a scarce and curious folio called Nature's 
Pictures drawn by Fancies Pencil to the Life, printed in 
London, 1656. Ten years later, in 1666, the first edition of 
John Bunyan's Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners was 
given to the public. Thus, within the period of practically 
a century after the appearance of Thomas Tusser's poetical 
effort, the reading public had only these four works to 
satisfy whatever appetite for autobiography it may have 
had. With the exception of Bunyan's work, the other 
sketches are only brief narratives of events, domestic or 
political. There seems to have been, in truth, a desire on 
the part of all writers to reserve anything in the nature of 
a record of the inner life. Sir Thomas Bodley mentions 
" some other private reasons, which I reserve unto myself." 
Margaret Cavendish says : " But now I have declared to 
my readers my birth, breeding, and actions to this part of 
my life, I mean the material parts," and then assures us 

1 The British Museum Library contains what is said to be the only- 
perfect copy of this book. J. P. Collier has reprinted it in vol. iii. 
of his Illustrations of Old English Literature, in the introduction to 
which he erroneously states that it is " the oldest piece of prose 
autobiography in our language." 


that she has written the account simply " for my own sake 
. . . lest after ages should mistake in not knowing I was 
. . . second wife to the Lord Marquis of Newcastle; for 
my Lord having had two wives, I might easily have been 
mistaken, especially if I should die and my Lord marry 
again." Bunyan, on the other hand, reduces to the 
minimum references to mere worldly affairs. " It is not 
his autobiography, but his religious feelings and experi 
ences that he records." We see, in these works, a fore 
shadowing of the two types of later autobiography: the 
one type, the record chiefly of outward events, the writer 
considering himself merely a part of the historical current; 
the other, the record of inner events, of the soul's struggles 
on the journey through life, the writer considering himself 
as individual, well-nigh isolated. 

We come now to a consideration of the delayed publica 
tion of early autobiographies; a condition of affairs 
analogous to that which we have already considered in the 
case of a number of early biographies. The seventeenth 
century produced a considerable number of autobiographi 
cal documents, few of which were given to the public until 
well into the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The 
following table will at once indicate the extent of this delay 
in the case of seventeen of the more important works : 

Died. Autobiography 

first printed. 

Lucy Hutchinson . . . 1620 1806 

Lord Herbert of Cherbury . . 1648 1764 

Sir Simonds D'Ewes . . . 1650 1845 

Sir Kenelm Digby . . . 1665 1827 

Robert Blair .... 1666 1754 (fragments) 

Edward Hyde Lord Clarendon . 1674 1759 

James Fraser of Brae . . . 1699 1738 

John Livingstone . . . 1672 1754 

Walter Pringle .... 1667 1723 

Anne Harrison Lady Fanshawe . 1680 1829 

William Lilly .... 1681 1715 


Died. Autobiography 
first printed. 
Anthony Ashley Cooper Lord 

Shaftesbury . . .1683 1859 

James Melvill .... 1614 1829 

Sir James Melville of Hallhill . 1617 1683 

Sir John Reresby . . . 1689 1734 (in part) 

John Bramston .... 1700 1845 

Anne Lady Halkett . . . 1699 1875 (at length) 

Such delay, of course, interfered with, any contemporaneous 
and continuous development of the autobiographical type. 
So long as these documents lay in manuscript there could 
be no criticism to direct, no comparative study, nothing to 
whet the desire for improvement of the type, no school (if 
we may so term it) of autobiography. The manner of the 
narrative would thus depend upon the whim of the writer; 
or, at least, would follow closely the bent of his mind. There 
would be no regular flow of autobiographical record; the 
impulse to record one's own life would manifest itself only 
at intervals. " Undeniably, autobiographical writing in 
England with the single exception of the Quaker group 
is sporadic until the end of the seventeenth century." 1 

The Quaker group, of which mention has just been made, 
is " unconnected with the secular personal records of the 
time." Mrs. Anna Robeson Burr, in her valuable and highly 
suggestive book, The Autobiography, has given the results 
of her careful study of this group. Little more can be done 
here than to give her statements. " The English Quakers 
form a continuous and compact group, running steadily, 
without variation in manner or method from 1624 to 1840. 
No other religious movement has left so large a mass of 
classified material. The autobiographical intention with the 
early Friends became a dogma, as it were, of their belief, 
and to leave behind a journal or an autobiography was 
almost a requirement of faith. The Quaker journals form in 
1 Burr, The Autobiography, p. 206. 


themselves a complete library : they are full of incident and 
adventure on land and sea, in the old world and the new; 
and they display upon every page qualities of courage and 
steadfastness, of simplicity and kindness which move the 
heart. At the same time, they show a common lack of 
imagination in dealing with their creed; there is astonish 
ingly little vitality to their religious expression. When they 
write of perplexities, of conversion, of prayer, of meeting, 
they all employ the same style, the same terms of expres 
sion. In such passages it is hard to tell if you are reading 
Woolman, or Ellwood, Chalkley, Davies, Edmundson, or 
Crook. Though there exists the quaintest individuality in 
the character of these men, yet the religious colour of their 
minds appears to be as uniform and as dun-coloured as was 
the prescribed dress of their society. The stamp of George 
Fox is upon every piece of these differing metals, and we 
are led, therefore, back to Fox's Journal, not only as an 
influential personal narrative, but as the earliest important 
self-study in English, and one of the few later documents 
which has an influence approaching that of our three 
primary types [Caesar's Commentaries, Augustine's Con 
fessions, and Jerome Cardan's De Vita Propria Liber\" 1 

It is no part of our purpose to discuss in detail the various 
autobiographies that have been mentioned. Having thus 
far pointed out the general trend of autobiographical 
narrative as far as the Quaker group, we may now turn to 
a consideration of a few of the outstanding characteristics 
of the more noteworthy examples those which, by reason 
of certain intrinsic merits, command our attention. Just 
as the autobiography of the period is sporadic, so are its 
manifestations diverse. The full and free play of individual 
ity is clearly seen in the manner of these early narratives. 

1 The Autobiography, pp. 235-6 and 418. See the Appendix, pp. 
298-9, for a list of the Quaker narratives. 


In any consideration of autobiography the Life of Lord 
Herbert of Cherbury written by himself will ever occupy a 
conspicuous place, and with it we may here begin. This 
narrative, written when its author was past sixty, was 
probably never completed. Lord Herbert carefully states 
his reason for undertaking the task : " I have thought fit to 
relate to my posterity those passages of my life which I 
conceive may best declare me, and be most useful to them." 
" Those passages of my life which best declare me " : this 
purpose the writer kept carefully before his mind, and what 
he set out to do, he did. " Foibles, passions, perhaps some 
vanity, surely some wrong-headedness ; these he scorned 
to conceal, for he sought truth, wrote on truth, was truth: 
he honestly told when he had missed or mistaken it." He 
puts down in black and white what most men would wish to 
conceal. There is withal a bold sweep to Lord Herbert's 
narrative which carries the reader steadily forward. The 
restless, reckless spirit of the man, evidently liking a good 
fight as well as a good meal, is seen in almost every page. 
We recognise him, at once, as akin to those other spirits of 
his age Sir Philip Sidney, Sir Francis Drake, Sir Walter 
Raleigh and catch a vision of the fulness of life which 
made England the leading nation of the earth. " This is 
perhaps the most extraordinary account that ever was given 
seriously by a wise man of himself," wrote Horace Walpole: 
an opinion with which all who read Lord Herbert's life 
narrative must agree. 

In the Private Memoirs of Sir Kenelm Digby we have a 
narrative remarkable for a different reason. From the point 
of view of inception, purpose, and method Digby's narra 
tive is unusual. It was written, he tells us, in " the few 
empty spaces of tedious hours, which would have been in 
danger to have been worse filled if I had not taken hold of 
this occasion of diversion." In short, Sir Kenelm asserts 


that he wrote the Memoirs " without any art or care," to 
preserve his virtue. " You that read, then," he continues, 
" may take notice that after a long and violent storm which 
took me between Rhodes and Candie, and separated me 
from all the vessels of my fleet, it was my misfortune to fall 
in with the island of Milo; where, while I stayed to mend 
the defects of a leaky ship, and to expect the relics of the 
tempest's fury, I was courteously invited ashore by a person 
of quality of that place. ... I passed my time there with 
much solitude, and my best entertainment was with my 
own thoughts; which being contrary to the manner of 
most men, unless it be when melancholy hath seized their 
minds, who deem no state delightful that is not quickened 
by exterior pleasures, I soon perceived that my courteous 
host was much troubled at my retirement, and omitted 
nothing that might avail to divert me from it; and among 
other things, made me a liberal offer to interest me in the 
good graces of several of the most noted beauties of that 
place, who in all ages have been known to be no niggards 
of their favours, which .might peradventure have been 
welcomely accepted by another that had like me had youth, 
strength, and a long time of being at sea to excuse him if 
he had yielded to such a temptation. But I, that had fresh 
in my soul the idea of so divine and virtuous a beauty [his 
wife] that others, in balance with hers, did but show the 
weakness and misery of their sex, thought it no mastery to 
overcome it : but yet was in some perplexity how to refuse 
my friend's courtesy, without seeming uncivil. In the end 
... I concluded that the best way for me would be to 
pretend some serious business, which of necessity did call 
upon me to write many dispatches, and into several places 
. . . but my facility of setting down on paper my low con 
ceptions having been ever very great, I soon made an end 
of what concerned business. ... I deemed it both a good 


diversion for the present, and pains that would hereafter 
administer me much content, to set down in writing my 
wandering fantasies." x The narrative is almost wholly an 
account of the love between himself and his wife, the Lady 
Venetia Stanley, " whose memory begot this discourse." 
" I will set down," writes Digby at the outset, " in the best 
manner that I can, the beginning, progress and consum 
mation of that excellent love which only makes me believe 
that our pilgrimage in this world is not indifferently laid 
upon all persons for a curse." The work is necessarily, 
therefore, a combination of biography and autobiography, 
and in manner approaches fiction. Digby uses assumed 
names for all the characters and places mentioned in his 
narrative. It is but a step from his method to pure auto 
biographical fiction. Sir Kenelm left directions that after his 
death the manuscript of this narrative should be " con 
verted into a clear flame." " That the manuscript was 
not destroyed," writes the editor of the printed work, " is 
fortunate for those who are gratified by perusing the 
description which genius gives of itself, as well as for 
Digby's memory, as it contains many facts highly credit 
able to his character, and tends, in some degree, to redeem 
that of his wife; whilst much light is thrown by it upon the 
early part of his career. As a piece of autobiography it is, 
perhaps, one of the most extraordinary which is extant, 
and every line bears striking evidence of the peculiar temper 
and still more singular opinions of the writer." 2 

The most elaborate life-narrative to come to print before 
the close of the seventeenth century was the Reliquiae 
Baxterianae : or Mr. Richard Baxter's Narrative of the most 
Memorable Passages of his Life and Times. This great work 
was written in instalments by Baxter between 1664 and the 

1 Private Memoirs of Sir Kenelm Digby , 1827, pp. 321-5. 
8 Ibid. pp. xliii-xlv. 


time of his death in 1691. It was " faithfully published 
from his own original manuscripts by Matthew Sylvester," 
at London, in 1696. It is a monumental work: in the words 
of the editor, " You have here the history of God's early, 
kind and powerful dealings with him ... of his ministerial 
self . . . and some tastes and informations of his thoughts 
and studies; and of his books and letters to divers persons 
of different stations and quality, and also of what pens and 
spirits wrote against him." It is not, however, in the 
personal record that Sylvester was interested, and here we 
get the notion of a contemporary opinion of the purpose and 
value of autobiography. " But the great things," writes 
the editor, " which are the spirit of this history are the 
accounts he gives of the original springs and sources of all 
these revolutions, distractions, and disasters which hap 
pened from the Civil Wars betwixt King Charles the First, 
to the Restoration of Charles the Second, and what was 
consequent after thereupon to Church and State." 

It was the desire of Edmund Calamy to edit these 
Reliquiae Baxterianae and to reproduce them in the form of 
an abridgment. " Mr. Orme," writes Sir James Stephen, 
" laments the obstinacy of the author's literary executor, 
which forbade the execution of this design. Few who know 
the book will agree with him. A strange chaos indeed it is. 
But Grainger has well said of the writer, that * men of his 
size are not to be drawn in miniature.' Large as life, and 
finished to the most minute detail, his own portrait, from 
his own hand, exhibits to the curious in such things a delinea 
tion of which they would not willingly spare a single stroke, 
and which would have lost all its force and freedom if 
reduced and varnished by any other limner, however prac 
tised, or however felicitous. There he stands, an intellectual 
giant as he was, playing with his quill as Hercules with the 
distaff, his very sport a labour under which any one but 



himself would have staggered. Towards the close of the 
first book occurs a passage, which, though often repub- 
lished, and familiar to most students of English literature, 
must yet be noticed as the most impressive record in our 
language, if not in any tongue, of the gradual ripening of a 
powerful mind under the culture of incessant study, wide 
experience, and anxious self-observation. Mental anatomy, 
conducted by a hand at once so delicate and so firm, and 
comparisons, so exquisitely just, between the impressions 
and impulses of youth, and the tranquil conclusion of old 
age, bring his career of strife and trouble to a close of 
unexpected and welcome serenity. In the full maturity of 
such knowledge as is to be acquired on earth of the mysteries 
of our mortal and of our immortal existence, the old man 
returns at last for repose to the elementary truths, the 
simple lessons, and the confiding affections of his childhood ; 
and writes an unintended commentary, of unrivalled force 
and beauty, on the inspired declaration, that to * become 
as little children ' is the indispensable, though arduous, 
condition of attaining the true heavenly wisdom. To 
substitute for this self-portraiture any other analysis * of 
Baxter's intellectual and moral character would be a vain 
attempt." 2 

The predominating historical features of the Reliquiae 
Baxterianae are characteristic of the later life narratives of 
Sir Simonds D'Ewes, Edward Hyde Lord Clarendon, Sir 
James Melville of Hallhill, Sir John Reresby, Anthony 
Ashley Cooper Lord Shaftesbury, and a number of others 
of lesser importance. So far as there is a common element 

1 Both Calamy and William Orme have produced abridgments 
of the work. Calamy remarks: " I have reduced things to that 
method which appeared to me most proper. Personal reflections and 
little privacies I have dropped " [italics are mine]. An Abridgement of 
Mr. Richard Baxter's History of his Life and Times : By Edmund 
Calamy, 1702. Calamy cast the whole into the third person. 

8 Essays in Ecclesiastical Biography, vol. ii. pp. 59-61 (3rd ed.). 


binding all these autobiographical documents together, it 
may be seen in the subordination of the subjective, personal 
account to the record of contemporary history. Auto 
biography is yet under the domination of history. In this 
particular, the development of the form runs parallel to 
that of biography. 

In view of the fact that The Journal of George Fox is the 
great prototype of that large body of Quaker autobio 
graphical literature which continued until near the middle 
of the nineteenth century, we need take it alone into 
consideration here. The " Great Jornall " was prepared 
by Fox for the purpose of giving to the public a record of 
his ministry and of his religious experience it is a religious 
autobiography. It was first prepared for printing by 
Thomas Ellwood, Milton's friend and pupil, and appeared 
with a preface written by William Penn, in 1694; in 1911 
the manuscript was reproduced for the first time in its 
entirety. In the words of T. Edmund Harvey, it " was 
doubtless regarded by George Fox rather as the rough 
material than the final form of the work to be printed after 
his death. . . . We may ask ourselves how far The Journal 
as we now possess it enables us to form an accurate portrait 
of Fox as a man. We gain many little details which hitherto 
were lacking; here and there we may regret a certain note 
of seeming harshness, or what appears to be too great an 
insistence on Fox's personal part in the story. But this is 
more than counterbalanced by the intense reality of all the 
narrative: it is instinct with a sense of truthfulness. . . . 
In one other most important respect the portrait of George 
Fox given us in his Journal is incomplete and must be 
supplemented by contemporary correspondence and the 
evidence of those who knew him. We realise, as we read 
his narrative, something of the magnetic power which 
attracted his hearers, but only here and there have we a 


glimpse of that tenderer side of his nature of which we read 
elsewhere. . . . Hardly more than a hint is given in The 
Journal of his strong family affection. . . . But this was 
inevitable from the nature of The Journal, which was never 
intended to be an autobiography in the full sense of the 
word. Yet if the picture which The Journal gives is neces 
sarily incomplete, it is more living and convincing than 
many a fuller portrait of themselves which other writers 
have left. As we read its pages there stands out clearly 
before us the great, strong personality of its writer, with 
all his shrewdness and simplicity, his untiring devotion 
to his message and his power of passing it on to others. 
The prophet's fire, the wise man's counsel, stirring record 
of hardships bravely borne, quaint and homely touches 
of human kindness, all are here." 1 

We have now seen that from the first brief accounts of 
domestic or political events the records of the merely 
objective autobiography has steadily shown a tendency to 
become more detailed and subjective. The religious type of 
autobiography as exemplified in The Journal of George 
Fox deepened the consciousness of the inner, subjective 
life. Man was beginning to study himself as apart from 
the great stream of humanity. In the eighteenth century, 
contemporaneous with the Quaker group of religious auto- 
biographers, we find " the first small cluster of genuinely 
scientific self-students." 8 This cluster is composed of seven 
whose works are similar in idea and in method: John 
Flamsteed, Edmund Calamy, Roger North, David Hume, 
Benjamin Franklin, Edward Gibbon, and Joseph Priestley, 
of whom Franklin has been accounted greatest. Four others 
of this cluster, John Dunton, William Whiston, George 

1 The Journal of George Fox : edited from the MSS. by Norman 
Penney. With an introduction by T. Edmund Harvey. Cambridge, 
1911. Vol. i. pp. xxvii-xxx. 

" See Appendix, pp. 299-300. 


Whitefield, and Henry Alline, have written religious 
confessions wholly independent as to creed. 

Edmund Calamy, D.D., of whom we have already spoken 
in connexion with the Reliquiae JBaxterianae, upon his 
death in 1731 left an extended historical account of his life 
which was not printed until 1829. It is significant of the 
place that self-narrative was assuming at this period, as 
well as of the care that was taken to study such models as 
then existed, to find that Calamy devotes a long introduc 
tion, occupying fifty-one pages in the printed edition, to a 
discussion of both foreign and English models of auto 
biography. After this discussion of all such works as were 
known to him, he states that it is his intention " to give 
what account I am able of the most noted passages of my 
life; the Providence of God towards me, the times I have 
lived in, and the remarks I have made on what occurred, 
as far as it fell under my notice." The work shows that 
Calamy was yet under the bondage of history, his long 
narrative, like that of Richard Baxter, being much devoted 
to the " record of the times in which he lived." 

David Hume, Benjamin Franklin, and Edward Gibbon 
begin a new era. These three men in their comparatively 
brief, pointed, well-written narratives, break away from 
the bondage of history and write of themselves. Here firsr*1 
we see a clear-cut, definite sense of proportion: we see 
David Hume, Benjamin Franklin, and Edward Gibbon 
occupying the centre of the picture, with all other persons 
properly subordinated, and all other events, save those 
which closely and intimately influenced them or were 
influenced by them, duly reduced to the minimum. Of the 
three works, only that of Hume was left in finished form for 
publication; his work, too, is the briefest of the three. 
Hume's brevity was a part of his plan : " It is difficult for a 
man to speak long of himself without vanity, therefore I 


shall be short." His further statement, that " this narra 
tive shall contain little more than the history of my writings, 
as indeed almost all my life has been spent in literary 
pursuits and occupations," shows us that literary auto- 
biographers were under the same spell as were the bio 
graphers of literary men of this period (1766). The purely 
literary life was thought to be hardly worth recording. 

Franklin's Autobiography is one of the most straight 
forward and unstudied narratives of its kind in the English 
language, if not in the world. Franklin was not over 
whelmed by any sense of his own greatness, nor did he 
have any false pride or desire to represent events in his life 
as of more importance than they really were. In conse 
quence, he has given us a human document of the greatest 
value: from it we are able to learn Franklin, the man. 
Franklin, the philosopher; Franklin, the statesman; 
Franklin, the philanthropist these were but manifesta 
tions of Franklin, the man; and we are able clearly to 
understand these manifestations only as we understand 
the man beneath them all. Francis Jeffrey evidently 
missed this great truth. Jeffrey confessed that the Auto 
biography was " written with great simplicity and liveli 
ness," yet found fault with it because it " contains too 
many trifling details and anecdotes of obscure individuals." 1 
In other words, had Franklin written a long impersonal 
account of the most important events of his life, Jeffrey 
would no doubt have applauded the performance. Frank 
lin, however, sure of himself, proceeded in his own way: 
he knew that man's life is made up mostly of " trifling 
details," and that the manner in which any man conducts 
himself in a critical moment is determined by the manner 
in which he has conducted himself in thousands of smaller 

1 Edinburgh Review, July 1806; Jeffrey's Contributions to Edin 
burgh Review, vol. i. p. 156. 


transactions in the past. He knew that the Franklin who 
" stood before kings " was the same Franklin who entered 
Philadelphia eating one roll while he carried the others 
under his arms. We can imagine him in his old age looking 
back with greater pleasure to his youthful entrance into 
Philadelphia than to the triumphs of his later years. He 
did not forget to tell us how the small events conspired to 
make him great. For this, among many other reasons, 
Franklin's Autobiography takes its place in the forefront 
of such narratives, and remains one of the great books of all 

Franklin's work constitutes the one classic American 
autobiography. "It is strange,** comments Mrs. Burr, 
" that this example should be at once so distinctive and so 
typical, even at that date, of a separate nationality. Typical 
it still remains, for even now the ideal American is Franklin 
in little. The figure he presents prudent, sagacious, 
prosperous above all prosperous with a healthy moral 
code not in the least fanatic or strained; with humour, 
energy, and importance in affairs is not this still the 
American ideal at its best? Franklin, that large embodi 
ment of somewhat small virtues, has left us a balanced and 
complete self-delineation, after reading which we have but 
one regret that his are qualities which do not bear reduc 
tion from the heroic standard. It is not easy to say whether 
the influence of his record has been more hurtful or useful. 
Its balance is extraordinary: the writer is wholly reason 
able; he is moved by common sense; he is consistently 
utilitarian in every event of his life. His attitude towards 
what he terms his errata is as gentle as we could wish it 
possible to be towards our own. Interesting and significant 
is the fact that his first erratum is a * violation of trust 
respecting money ' ; which might well be written in black 
and white letters over the whole United States, from Maine 


to California." Not without reason does Mrs. Burr close 
with the fervent wish, " Could we have pointed, as the 
quintessence of our national character, but to some 
courageous idealist ! " * 

. It is interesting to record that Franklin's Autobiography 
was first printed in a French translation in 1791. " From 
this point," affirms John Bigelow, " the history of this 
manuscript is a succession of surprises, which has scarce 
any parallel in ancient or modern bibliography, with the 
possible exception of the writings of Aristotle and the 
Table Talk of Martin Luther." The manuscript consists of 
four parts : the first was written during Franklin's residence 
in England as agent of the Colonies, in 1771, and covers 
that part of his life from his birth in 1706 to his marriage in 
1730; to this point it was written for the gratification of 
his family. The second part, undertaken at the solicitation 
of friends, was written at Passy, while Franklin was 
Minister to France. The third portion was begun in August 
1788, after Franklin's return to Philadelphia, and brings the 
narrative down to 1757. This third portion ends the Auto 
biography so far as printed to 1867, when John Bigelow 
edited the first edition ever printed from the original 
manuscript, which edition contained a fourth part, consist 
ing of a few pages written in 1789. Mr. Bigelow, who was 
fortunate enough to secure in France the original Franklin 
manuscript, made a careful study of the different published 
versions of the Autobiography, and in 1909 published the 
story of the fortunes of the manuscript in an introduction 
to a new edition of the narrative. 2 

It is remarkable, yet characteristic of most English 
autobiography, that two of the greatest of such works have 

1 The Autobiography, pp. 209-10. 

8 The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. The Unmutilated and 
Correct Version. Compiled and edited, with notes, by John Bigelow. 
G. P. Putnam's Sons. 


come to us in an unfinished almost fragmentary state. 
Franklin wrote Imrriedly and unstudiedly with no eye to 
publication. Edward Gibbon, on the other hand, experi 
mented with and elaborated his life-story most carefully; 
yet he, like Franklin, left the parts to be forged together 
by another hand. 

Between 1788 and 1793, Gibbon wrote six different 
sketches of his life, and a seventh fragmentary sketch. 
These sketches "are not quite continuous; they partly 
recount the same incidents in different form; they are 
written in different tones ; and yet no one of them is com 
plete; none of them seemed plainly designed to supersede 
the rest." These sketches were put in order by Lord 
Sheffield and as the Memoirs of the Life and Writings of 
Edward Gibbon were published in 1799. Not until 1894 was 
the public given the complete text of Gibbon's narrative. 
" A piece most elaborately composed by one of the greatest 
writers who ever used our language, an autobiography 
often pronounced to be the best we possess, is now proved 
to be in no sense the simple work of that illustrious pen, 
but to have been dexterously pieced together out of seven 
fragmentary sketches and adapted into a single and 
coherent narrative." 1 One note which Gibbon appended 
to a part of his narrative indicates his attitude towards 
much of the autobiography that appeared before his death. 
" It would most assuredly be in my power," he writes, 
" to amuse the reader with a gallery of portraits and a 
collection of anecdotes ; but I have always condemned the 
practice of transforming a private memorial into a vehicle 
of satire and praise." The emphasis which Gibbon here 

1 Introduction to The Autobiographies of Edward Gibbon. With 
an Introduction by the Earl of Sheffield. Edited by John Murray. 
" The reader may now rest assured that, for the first time, he has 
before him the autobiographic sketches of Edward Gibbon in the 
exact form in which he left them at his death." 


insists should be thrown on the person who is the subject 
of the autobiography completed for the eighteenth century 
the line of organic development and established for the 
future a canon of unity which, if not always followed, is 
yet permanently recognised as binding. 

We have already seen how the public interest in bio 
graphy had grown and developed to the middle of the 
eighteenth century. A similar interest in autobiography, 
long recognised simply as a branch of biography and long 
known as self-biography, ran parallel with the interest in 
pure biography. In 1759, Johnson put the stamp of his 
authority on the form in an Idler essay : 

" Those relations are therefore commonly of most value in which 
the writer tells his own story. He that recounts the life of another 
commonly dwells most upon conspicuous events, lessens the familiar 
ity of his tale to increase its dignity, shows his favourite at a distance 
decorated and magnified like the ancient actors in their tragic dress, 
and endeavours to hide the man that he may produce a hero. 

" But if it be true which was said by a French prince, That no man 
was a hero to the servants of his chamber, it is equally true that 
every man is yet less a hero to himself. He that is most elevated 
above the crowd by the importance of his employments, or the 
reputation of his genius, feels himself affected by fame or business 
but as they influence his domestic life. The high and low, as they 
have the same faculties and the same senses, have no less similitude 
in their pains and pleasures. The sensations are the same in all, 
though produced by very different occasions. The prince feels the 
same pain when an invader seizes a province, as the farmer when 
a thief drives away his cow. Men thus equal in themselves will 
appear equal in honest and impartial biography ; and those whom 
fortune or nature place at the greatest distance may afford instruc 
tion to each other. 

' ' The writer of his own life has at least the first qualification of an 
historian, the knowledge of the truth; and though it may be plau 
sibly objected that his temptations to disguise it are equal to his 
opportunities of knowing it, yet I cannot but think that impartiality 
may be expected with equal confidence from him that relates the 
passages of his own life, as from him that delivers the transactions 
of another. 


" Certainty of knowledge not only excludes mistake, but fortifies 
veracity. What we collect by conjecture, and by conjecture only 
can one man judge of another's motives or sentiments, is easily 
modified by fancy or by desire; as objects imperfectly discerned 
take forms from the hope or fear of the beholder. But that which 
is fully known cannot be falsified but with reluctance of under 
standing, and alarm of conscience: of understanding, the lover of 
truth; of conscience, the sentinel of virtue. 

" He that writes the life of another is either his friend or his enemy, 
and wishes either to exalt his praise or aggravate his infamy; many 
temptations to falsehood will occur in the disguise of passions, too 
specious to fear much resistance. Love of virtue will animate pane 
gyric, and hatred of wickedness embitter censure. The zeal of grati 
tude, the ardour of patriotism, fondness for an opinion, or fidelity 
to a party, may easily overpower the vigilance of a mind habitually 
well disposed, and prevail over unassisted and unfriended veracity. 

" But he that speaks of himself has no motive to falsehood or par 
tiality except self-love, by which all have so often been betrayed 
that we are on the watch against its artifices. He that writes an 
apology for a single action, to confute an accusation, to recommend 
himself to favour, is indeed always to be suspected of favouring his 
own cause; but he that sits down calmly and voluntarily to review 
his life for the admonition of posterity, or to amuse himself, and 
leaves this account unpublished, may be commonly presumed to tell 
truth, since falsehood cannot appease his own mind, and fame will 
not be heard beneath the tomb." l 

Not only was autobiography thus shaping the course 
of biography, it was having a strong influence as well upon 
the direction of English fiction. Mrs. Burr contends that 
" to claim that the imaginary autobiography Robinson 
Crusoe, let us say owes its being to some genuine auto 
biography would be to claim too much." When we see, 
however, that biography shaped the course of much early 
fiction and that autobiography preceded the autobiographi 
cal novel, we must conclude that at least the spirit of 
biography and autobiography was so potent at this time 
as to give direction to the fiction. A careful student of 
English fiction has given it as his opinion that " a quick 
1 Idler, No. 84, November 24, 1759. 


offshoot of the biography was the autobiography, which, 
as a man in giving a sympathetic account of himself is 
likely to run into poetry, came very close to being a novel 
[as in the case of Sir Kenelm Digby]. . . . Margaret 
Duchess of Newcastle's Autobiography, published in 1656 
in a volume of tales, is a famous account of a family in 
which * all the brothers were brave, and all the sisters 
virtuous.' Bunyan's Grace Abounding is a story of the fierce 
struggles between the spirit and the flesh, and of the final 
triumph of the spirit. This autobiographical method of 
dealing with events, partly or wholly fictitious, has been a 
favourite with all our novelists, except with the very great 
est; and it is more employed to-day than ever before." 1 

As we come to the end of the eighteenth century, we 
thus witness a point of culmination in the development of 
both biography and autobiography. Although the auto 
biographical form had up to this time been considered only 
a branch of biography so much so, that it had no dis 
tinguishing name until 1809 it had nevertheless developed 
independently, and latterly had influenced biography much 
more than it had been influenced by that form. After the 
work of Mason and Boswell, and the promulgation of 
Johnson's opinion, the threads of biography and auto 
biography unite, that of autobiography ever predominating 
in the pattern, and growing ever brighter and clearer. As 
Boswell's Life of Johnson in 1791 marks the high point 
reached by biography in the eighteenth century, so the 
narratives of Hume, Franklin, and Gibbon the latter 
appearing in 1799 mark the high point of autobiography. 
From this time forward, all biography is autobiographical 
in method. 

1 Cross, Development of the English Novel, p. 22. 



" WHATEVER reason there might have been in former days 
to complain of the want of due respect to the memory of 
distinguished persons, it can hardly be said of our times 
that an indifference prevails in regard to departed merit. 
Instead of lamenting with the great Lord Bacon that c The 
writing of Lives is not more frequent,' we could, perhaps 
with more propriety, wish that the practice were either 
limited or better directed. ... Of late years, thanks to 
the officious zeal of friendship, and the active industry of 
literary undertakers, biographical memoirs have become 
as multitudinous, prolix, and veracious as epitaphs in a 
country churchyard." Thus wrote John Watkins in iSzi. 1 
His words may well stand at the beginning of any discussion 
of biography in the nineteenth century, for in this century 
the writing of biography became a business. The output 
has been enormous, and a reader stands bewildered before 
the rows upon rows of biographical volumes which con 
front him upon library shelves. It is no longer possible for 
one to discuss all the works that have been published, nor, 
happily, is it necessary. The main line of development is 

The course of English biography since the beginning of 
the nineteenth century has been determined by two influ 
ences: that exerted by BoswelTs Life of Johnson, and that 
similar, but more powerful influence, exerted by auto 
biography. This statement may call for a little explanatory 
1 In the preface to his Universal Biographical Dictionary. 


substantiation, as there is no doubt misunderstanding in 
regard to its full import. For example, Percy Fitzgerald has 
contended that " during the last hundred years there is 
not a single instance of any work that was written on 
Boswell's extraordinary system." " Boswell," writes Mr. 
Fitzgerald, " was attached to Johnson as a ' reporter ' of 
his sayings and doings, and the bulk of his book is formed 
from his own private diary or journal, artistically revised 
and abstracted. His accounts of other persons came from 
the same source, viz., his private diary. In ' the new era 
in biography ' we cannot reckon on such an exceptional 
combination as this." 1 So far, true; Mr. Fitzgerald, 
however, omits entirely reference to the autobiographical 
method adopted by Boswell that method of employing, as 
a part of the narrative, Johnson's own letters, diaries, and 
published works. To be sure, Boswell scored an unusual 
success in reporting Johnson's conversation, the result of 
" the fortunate accident " of Johnson's being a remarkable 
talker and Boswell's being a remarkable reporter. We must 
not, for the reason that the record of conversation in Bos 
well's book is so rich and full, forget that such record is yet 
only a part of the method. As a matter of fact, and in 
summation of this point, it is not going too far to say that 
every biography of any importance since the days of 
Boswell's Johnson has employed, with necessary variations 
of course, the methods of that great Life. Even Mr. Fitz 
gerald's Life of Boswell is but a variant of the Boswell model. 
The direct influence of Boswell's Life of Johnson is difficult 
to trace: without having ever been translated into any 
foreign language, this book has undoubtedly done more than 
any other single work of its kind to point the world to the 
true method of biography. 

" There are few copious and profound lives of eminent 
1 The Life of James Boswell, vol. ii. p. 282, note. 


men," wrote Sir Egerton Brydges in 1834, " to which trie 
persons recorded have not by their own pens afforded a 
large portion of the materials. Almost all other lives are 
comparatively dry and barren." * What Mr. Brydges has 
recorded, thus early in the nineteenth century, as his own 
conviction, has remained permanently and increasingly 
true. Whenever a man has left an autobiography, that has 
become the basis of any attempted biography; in the 
absence of any such autobiographical document, there has 
been a turning to journals, diaries, letters, recorded con 
versations to anything, in fact, which might help the 
biographer to follow the autobiographical method. 

The Bos well-autobiographical method has its pitfalls. 
" Boswell, the prince of biographers," writes Sir James 
Stephen, " has well nigh ruined the art of biography. For 
like every other art, it has its laws, or rather is bound by 
those laws to which all composition is subject, whether the 
pen or the pencil, the chisel or the musical chords, be the 
instrument with which we work. Of those canons, the chief 
is, that the artist must aim at unity of effect, and must 
therefore bring all the subordinate parts of his design into 
a tributary dependence on his principal object. Boswell 
(a man of true genius, however coarse his feelings, and 
however flagrant his self-conceit) knew how to extract 
from every incident of his hero's life, and from the meanest 
alike and the noblest of his hero's associates, a series of 
ever-varying illustrations and embellishments of his hero's 
character. The imagination of Cervantes scarcely produced 
a portrait more single, harmonious, and prominent, in the 
centre of innumerable sketches, and of groups which fill 
without overcrowding the canvas. The imitators of this 
great master have aspired to the same success by the simple 
collocation of all facts, all letters, and all sayings, from 
1 Autobiography, vol. i. p. 321. 


which the moral, intellectual, or social nature of the main 
figure on their biographical easel may be inferred. But in 
order to truth of effect, a narrator must suppress much of 
the whole truth. Charles V. of Spain, and Charles I. of 
England, still live in picture as they lived in the flesh, 
because Titian and Vandyke knew how to exclude, to con 
ceal, and to diminish, as well as how to copy. Imagination 
cannot do her work unless she be free in the choice of her 
materials, and if the work of the imagination be undone, 
nothing is done which any distant times will hoard as a 
part of their literary inheritance." x We may well keep 
this paragraph in mind as we consider the biographical 
contribution of the years following Boswell. 

The first great biography of the nineteenth century, a 
work which has by many critics been ranked as second only 
to BoswelPs Johnson, is John Gibson Lockhart's Life of 
Sir Walter Scott (1836-8). It is to this work that we may 
turn for confirmation of the influence exerted by the 
Boswell-autobiographical method. Lockhart informs us 
that he had made substantial progress in composing the 
biography of Scott, before an autobiographical fragment, 
composed by Scott in 1808, was discovered in an old cabinet 
at Abbotsford. " This fortunate accident," wrote Lockhart, 
" rendered it necessary that I should altogether remodel 
the work which I had commenced. The first chapter . . . 
consists of the Ashestiel fragment; which gives a clear 
outline of his early life down to the period of his call to the 
Bar July 1792. All the notes appended to this chapter 
are also by himself. They are in a handwriting very different 
from the text, and seem, from various circumstances, to 
have been added in 1826. It appeared to me, however, that 
the author's modesty had prevented him from telling the 
story of his youth with that fulness of detail which would 

1 Essays in Ecclesiastical Biography, vol. ii. pp. 286-7 (3rd ed.). 


now satisfy the public. I have therefore recast my own 
collections as to the period in question, and presented the 
substance of them, in five succeeding chapters, as illustra 
tions of his too brief autobiography. This procedure has 
been attended with many obvious disadvantages; but I 
greatly prefer it to printing the precious fragment in an 
appendix." 1 In this manner does Lockhart acknowledge 
the pre-eminent value of the autobiographical method. As 
to the method followed by Lockhart throughout the 
remainder of the long biography, he may again speak for 
himself: " I have . . . endeavoured to lay before the 
reader those parts of Sir Walter's character to which we 
have access, as they were indicated in his sayings and doings 
through the long series of his years making use, whenever 
it was possible, of his own letters and diaries rather than 
of any other materials; but refrained from obtruding 
almost anything of comment. It was my wish to let the 
character develop itself." 2 In other words, in the Life of 
Scott we have BoswelPs method adapted to the purposes 
and manner of Lockhart. 3 

The Life of Scott has been freely censured and copiously 
praised. Leslie Stephen says that it " may safely be de 
scribed as, next to BoswelTs Johnson, the best in the lan 
guage." 4 Professor Saintsbury refers to BoswelPs work 
as " the only possible rival " of Lockhart's; and goes on to 
say that " the taste and spirit of Lockhart's book are not 
less admirable than the skill of its arrangement and the 
competency of its writing; nor would it be easily possible 
to find a happier adjustment in this respect in the whole 

1 Preface, Life of Scott. 

9 Life of Scott, vol. vii. p. 398. 

3 See Life of Scott, vol. iv. pp. 150-1, for Lockhart's reasons for 
not recording Scott's familiar conversation. Lockhart undoubtedly 
realised that he did not possess Bos well's gift for reporting conversa 

In Dictionary of National Biography, article " Lockhart." 



annals of biography." l " It is an achievement," writes 
Professor Hugh Walker, " which has very rarely been 
rivalled." 2 It is needful, in the face of such enthusiastic 
praise, to look somewhat on the other side. Especially is 
it valuable, in considering the evolution of the biographical 
form, to ascertain whether Lockhart has made sufficient 
advance over the work of Boswell to entitle him to an 
equality of rank. 

We may best begin with one of Lockhart's own estimates. 
" My sole object," wrote Lockhart in a letter (January 
1837) to Will Laidlaw, " is to do him justice, or rather to 
let him do himself justice, by so contriving it that he shall 
be, as far as possible from first to last, his own historio 
grapher, and I have therefore willingly expended the time 
that would have sufficed for writing a dozen books on what 
will be no more than the compilation of one." 8 With this 
estimate we may well consider what Thomas Carlyle wrote 
in what Mr. Lang pronounces " the only contemporary 
reviewal that holds its ground." 4 Lockhart's work, writes 
Carlyle, " is not so much a composition as what we may 
call a compilation well done. Neither is this a task of no 
difficulty; this too is a task that may be performed with 
extremely various degrees of merit: from the Life and 
Correspondence of Hannah More, for instance, up to this 
Life of Scott, there is a wide range indeed. ... To picture 
forth the Life of Scott according to any rules of art or 
composition, so that a reader, on adequately examining it, 
might say to himself, * There is Scott, there is the physiog 
nomy and meaning of Scott's appearance and transit on this 
earth; such was he by nature, so did the world act on him, 
so he on the world, with such result and significance for 

1 A History of Nineteenth Century Literature, p. 193. 
8 The Literature of the Victorian Era, p. 924. 

3 Quoted in Andrew Lang's Lift of Lockhart, vol. ii. p. 117. 

4 Ibid. p. 119. 


himself and us : ' this was by no manner of means Mr. 
Lockhart's plan. A plan which, it is rashly said, should 
preside over every biography ! " 1 

Carlyle lamented, too, the great length of the biography; 
he reviewed it before the publication of the seventh and 
last volume, a fact that Mr. Lang deplores. It is doubtful, 
however, whether the seventh volume, which contains 
most certainly the best of Lockhart's performance, would 
have altered Carlyle's opinion to any great extent: he 
would merely have insisted that there should have been 
more compression more composition. " The physiognomy 
of Scott," thus wrote Carlyle in the aforementioned review, 
" will not be much altered for us by that seventh volume; 
the prior six have altered it but little; as, indeed, a man 
who has written some two hundred volumes of his own, and 
lived for thirty years amid the universal speech of friends 
must have already left some likeness of himself. . . . And, 
in the mean while, study to think it nothing miraculous 
that seven biographical volumes are given where one had 
been better." " Scott's biography," concludes Carlyle, " if 
uncomposed, lies printed and indestructible here, in the 
elementary state, and can at any time be composed, if 
necessary, by whosoever has a call to it." 

Now that enough time has elapsed for us to get a proper 
perspective, we must admit that Carlyle's criticism is right 
and just: his review remains the best word on the subject. 
The Life of Scott is much too long; if " a work of thorough 
craft," as we may well admit it to be, it is yet far from being 
a work of art. 2 The material lies there in " the elementary 
state " : a reader travels laboriously through the vast 

1 Review of Lockhart's Scott. 

1 ". . . Lockhart's merit is mainly due to the excellence and 
the abundance of the raw material provided for him in Scott's 
ample journals and correspondence." Lee, Principles of Biography 
p. 49- 


tract of eighty-four chapters, and not infrequently, in the 
all but interminable wilderness, well-nigh loses sight of 
the figure of Sir Walter, or at best, sees him but dimly. 
There are masses of documents letters, diaries, journals, 
extracts from prefaces yet there is little selection; the 
reader must devour the whole feast. The biography is a 
mine to be worked: it contains rich stores of precious ore; 
the reader, however, must do much toilsome digging. It is 
scarcely too much to say that " the features of the man are 
nowhere united into a portrait, but left to the reader to 
unite as he may; a task which, to most readers, will be hard 
enough." 1 One has the feeling, when reading the work, 
that the writing of it must have been a great effort for 
Lockhart : the book seems to lack spontaneity, the freedom 
that results from the sheer joy of writing. Lockhart's style 
has been highly praised, by none more liberally than by 
Professor Walker. " Through the whole book Lockhart's 
style is excellent. It is simple and unstrained, and wholly 
free from self-consciousness. There is no attempt at fine 
writing; the excellent consists in doing with complete 
success what is attempted, in expressing in the most trans 
lucent phrase the meaning intended to be conveyed. For 
this reason the reader seldom stops to notice how high is 
the quality of the English." 2 A less enthusiastic critic 
might be inclined to say that although the style is clear, 
it is nevertheless rather heavy; one has a feeling that in 
many places more words are employed than are necessary 
to convey the meaning intended. Except in a few places 
notably in the story of Scott's death Lockhart does 
not write more excellent English than does Boswell; we 
certainly cannot acknowledge him to be master of so perfect 
a style as that of James Anthony Froude. 

1 Carlyle, Werner. 

a The Literature of the Victorian Era, p. 923. 


One thing Lockhart did supremely well, and in doing 
this he followed the general trend of biographical develop 
ment, and was a worthy successor to Boswell. In this, too, 
he furnished a high example to all future biographers. He 
set himself deliberately and firmly against panegyric and 
dared to tell the story of Sir Walter's life defects and all 
as honestly as it was possible for him to do so. "A stern 
sense of duty that kind of sense of it which is combined 
with the feeling of his actual presence in a serene state of 
elevation above all petty terrestrial and temporary views 
will induce me to touch the few darker points in his life and 
characteras freely as the others which were so predominant." 1 
He has been sufficiently and justly praised for his course in 
this matter, and time has only served to fortify his position 
and to discredit contemporary antagonistic criticism. At 
this point, Carlyle's criticism again remains unimpaired. 
" Probably," wrote Carlyle, " it was Mr. Lockhart's feeling 
of what the great public would approve, that led him, open- 
eyed, into this offence against the small criticising public: 
we joyfully accept the omen. Perhaps then, of all the 
praises copiously bestowed on his work, there is none in 
reality so creditable to him as this same censure, which has 
also been pretty copious. It is a censure better than a good 
many praises. . . . For our part, we hope all manner of 
biographies that are written in England will henceforth be 
written so. If it is fit that they be written otherwise, then 
it is still fitter that they be not written at all: to produce 
not things but ghosts of things can never be the duty of 
man." " Not of all men is it well, perhaps," says Andrew 
Lang, " that biography should be written thus. Not thus 
unsparingly did Lockhart think it becoming to write about 
Robert Burns. But it is a thing to rejoice in, that the full 

1 Lockhart in letter to Will Laidlaw, quoted by Lang, Life of 
Lockhart, vol. ii. p. 127-8. 


story of one great man's life can be told as Lockhart has 
told the story of Scott's life. We know the worst of Sir 
Walter; we have the full portrait of a man; the defects 
are blazoned by the intense light of genius and goodness, 
and, thus displayed, how slight they are, how high is that 
noble nature above ours, if indeed it attains not to the rare 
perfection of the saints ! Scott, assuredly, was not a saint, 
but a man living in the world, and, it is granted by his 
biographer, living too much for the world. But he lived 
for other men as few of the saints have lived, and his kind 
ness, helpfulness, courage, temper, and moral excellence, 
his absolute, immaculate freedom from the literary sins of 
envy, jealousy, vanity, shine in Lockhart's papers as an 
eternal, if unapproachable example. Only a good man 
could have so clearly observed, so affectionately adored, 
and so excellently recorded these virtues." 1 

On one other point we may take Mr. Lang's judgment, as 
that of a man who speaks justly in spite of his prepossessions. 
" Of the literary merits of the Life of Scott it is not possible 
for one whose breviary, as it were, the book has been from 
boyhood, to speak with impartiality. To a Scot, and a Scot 
of the Border, the book has the charm of home, and is dear 
to us as his own grey hills were dear to Sir Walter. Neces 
sarily, inevitably, the stranger cannot, or seldom can, share 
this sentiment. Mr. Saintsbury, now in some degree a 
Scot by adoption, has, indeed, placed the book beside or 
above Boswell's. That is a length to which I cannot go; 
for Boswell's hero appears to myself to be of a character 
more universally human, a wiser man, a greater humourist, 
his biography a more valuable possession, than Sir Walter 
and Sir Walter's Life. But it were childish to dispute about 
the relative merits of two chefs-cPaeuvre. Each work is 
perfect in its kind and in relation to its subject. The self- 
1 Life of Lockhart, vol. ii. p. 121-2. 


repression of Lockhart, accompanied by his total lack of 
self-consciousness (so astonishing in so shy a man, when 
his own person has to figure on the scene), is as valuable 
as the very opposite quality in Boswell." 1 

The next noteworthy success after Lockhart's Scott was 
Arthur Penrhyn Stanley's Life of Thomas Arnold (1844). 
The work exhibits more of condensation than does that of 
Lockhart; on the contrary, it is less unified than the Scott 
and exhibits more evidently the traces of painful labour. 
Stanley admitted that the work was the most difficult in 
which he ever engaged. It was originally the intention of 
Stanley that " the several parts should have been supplied 
by different writers." Fortunately, this method was 
abandoned: it is almost impossible to attain unity of effect 
unless one master-hand erects the structure; a mosaic, 
composed of contributions from several pens, may form a 
memorial volume, but hardly a biography. Stanley was 
scarcely successful in his handling of Arnold's letters: he 
separated the letters from the narrative, employing the 
narrative " to state as much as would enable the reader to 
enter upon the letters with a correct understanding of their 
writer in his different periods of life, and his different spheres 
of action." According to this plan the letters are given in 
collections at the end of chapters. " Such a plan," says 
Professor Walker, " is really a confession of failure . . . 
the work of weaving the letters into the narrative, which 
ought to have been performed by the biographer, is left to 
the imagination of the reader." 2 Stanley did well, on the 
other hand, not to sit in judgment on Arnold : " The only 
question which I have allowed myself to ask in each 
particular act or opinion that has come before me," he 
writes in the Preface, " has been not whether I approved or 

1 Life of Lockhart, vol. ii. p. 122. 

Literature of the Victorian Era, p. 925. 


disapproved, but whether it was characteristic of him." 
Without being a remarkable type of the autobiographical 
method, the Life of Arnold, by reason of its sanity, its clear 
English, its sympathetic delineation arising from Stanley's 
love of Arnold, is sure of its place in the history of nine 
teenth-century biography. 

The century was well-nigh closed when James Anthony 
Froude produced the Life of Thomas Carlyle, a work which, 
for skilful selection and rejection, effects of light and shade, 
remarkable unity, and brilliance of style in short, for 
sheer artistry, is unsurpassed; and, from a dispassionate 
point of view, marks the highest summit reached by English 
biography since the great work of Boswell. Froude's 
Carlyle has been, ever since its publication (1882-4), a 
famous battle-ground. The storm raised by Lockhart's 
Life of Scott was but a summer breeze in comparison. It 
might almost be said that Froude was permitted to enjoy 
no peace of mind after the biography was given to the 
public. It is certain that he has been grossly misjudged, 
severely maligned, unjustly condemned. Matter has been 
published concerning both him and Carlyle that had much 
better been left unpublished. Not even yet has the storm 
subsided; but it is subsiding, and when the time of clear 
shining comes, Froude will get his due, and the Life of 
Carlyle will be allowed without protest to take its place 
where already even unfriendly critics have reluctantly 
conceded it to belong in the very forefront of English 
biography. This is not the place to plead the cause of 
Froude; but no discussion of the Life of Carlyle, from 
whatever angle, can proceed without something of adequate 
adjustment of values arising from a careful view of both 
sides of the case. 

First, we may proceed to an examination of the method 
followed by Froude and the consequent place of the bio- 


graphy in the evolution of the form. Theoretically, Froude 
adopted the method used by Boswell and Lockhart. " So 
far [until 1860]," writes Froude, "my account of Carlyle 
has been taken from written memorials, letters, diaries, 
and autobiographical fragments. For the future the story 
will form itself round my own personal intercourse with 
him." 1 We recognise, at once, that this plan is the exact 
parallel of that employed in BoswelPs Johnson. Froude, 
then, cannot be said to have advanced the evolution of the 
biographical form ; he worked according to the old and tried 
method. He does not obtrude himself unduly upon the 
scene of action; Leslie Stephen commends him for " the 
skill with which he makes the story tell itself, and develops 
the drama without obtruding himself as showman." 2 He 
does not report Carlyle's conversation in the manner of 
Boswell, although he had abundant opportunity to do so. 
While he wrote a fairly full narrative, he stopped short of 
the tiresome prolixity of Lockhart. In short, while his 
Carlyle marks no advance in method, it does mark a distinct 
advance in manner and that manner is the very essence 
of Froude's literary faith and theory, the source at once of 
his strength and of his weakness. 

It can scarcely be denied that Froude possessed the 
dramatic instinct to a high degree; history was to him 
nothing if not dramatic, and few men have excelled him in 
its dramatic representation. In this respect, he was like 
Carlyle, of whom, in truth,"he was an ardent disciple. Now, 
the dramatic instinct is prone to display itself unduly: in 
the attempt to portray a striking situation there is great 
danger of over-emphasis; Carlyle has frequently been 
charged with such exaggeration. Somewhat similarly, 
Macaulay has been charged with warping the facts to 

1 Life in London, vol. ii. p. 254. 
* Studies of a Biographer, vol. iii. p. 



enable him to make a picturesque phrase. But this dramatic 
instinct this sure attribute of the artist is of all other 
gifts essential to the great biographer. Boswell possessed 
it in a high degree; Lockhart did not have it, hence the 
lesser quality of his success; perhaps the absence of it 
among biographers accounts for the scarcity of great 
biographies. One of the best critical discussions of bio 
graphy in the English language was written by William 
Ewart Gladstone in his review of Trevelyan's Life of 
Macaulay. 1 " A peculiar faculty," wrote Mr. Gladstone, 
" and one approaching to the dramatic order, belongs to 
the successful painter of historical portraits and belongs 
also to the true biographer. It is that of representing 
personality. In the picture, what we want is not merely a 
collection of unexceptionable lines and colours so presented 
as readily to identify their original. Such a work is not the 
man, but a duly attested certificate of the man. What we 
require, however, is the man and not merely the certificate. 
In the same way, what we want in a biography, and what, 
despite the etymology of the title, we very seldom find, is 
life. The very best transcript is a failure, if it be a transcript 
only. To fulfil its idea, it must have in it the essential 
quality of movement; must realise the lofty fiction of the 
divine Shield of Achilles, where the upturning earth, though 
wrought in metal, darkened as the plough went on, and the 
figures of the battle-piece dealt their strokes and parried 
them, and dragged out from the turmoil the bodies of their 
dead. . . . But neither love, which is indeed a danger as 
well as an ally . . . nor forgetfulness of self, will make a 
thoroughly good biography, without this subtle gift of 
imparting life. By this it was that Boswell established him 
self as the prince of all biographers." To him who attains 
unto such " lofty fiction," much may be forgiven. And 
1 Quarterly Review, vol. 142, pp. 1-50. 


Froude has attained. To one who reads with open, unpre 
judiced mind, the story of Carlyle's life unrolls itself with 
a power not unlike that of the greatest Greek dramas. We 
see, before our very eyes, the pilgrimage of Carlyle from 
birth to death; we see his Titanic struggle with life; we 
see him go down into the darkening shadows. One feels 
oneself growing old with the hero, as one proceeds to the 
end of the volumes. 

This compelling power of Froude's work made itself felt 
from the very first. " It would be an ill compliment to Mr. 
Froude," wrote Mowbray Morris in the Quarterly Review* 
" to suppose him hurt by the hard words that have been 
flung at the great mausoleum he has now completed to the 
memory of Carlyle. For great it assuredly is, nor in sub 
stance only. Whatever be our feelings for the relics it is 
intended to enshrine, whatever even we may think of the 
style of the building, we must all respect the pious care and 
industry of the architect. Our language is not rich in bio 
graphies of this high class. BoswelPs Life of Johnson, 
Southey's Life of Nelson, Lockhart's Life of Scott, Carlyle's 
Life of Sterling, Stanley's Life of Arnold, Mr. Trevelyan's 
Life ofMacaulay ; it would have been hard to name another 
till these four volumes appeared, but in that list they will 
assuredly take their place." " It seems hard to doubt the 
truth of the portrait," says the reviewer in closing. " The 
man that many, perhaps, who never set eyes on him in the 
flesh have fashioned out of his works, it may not be; but 
that this is the true and theirs the counterfeit likeness, is 
surely writ large on every page, and with the man's own 

The chief outcry against Froude was the self-same 
outcry that was raised against Lockhart: matters were 
revealed that should not have been revealed. " He is found 
Vol. 159, pp. 76-112. 


guilty of having said this and that, calculated not to be 
entirely pleasant to this man and that; in other words, 
calculated to give him and the thing he worked in a living 
set of features, not leave him vague, in the white beatified- 
ghost condition," to adopt Carlyle's own words. No minute 
discussion of this point can here be entered into; can any 
one, however, who has read with thoughtful care Carlyle's 
review of Lockhart's Scott, taking the matter therein at its 
plain, face value, and in connexion with Carlyle's other 
utterances, both spoken and written, on the subject of bio 
graphy, doubt that Froude followed the very method and 
manner which Carlyle would have approved ? " Express 
biography of himself he would really rather there should be 
none " [but note that he does not prohibit one]; but such a 
work once taken in hand, are we not sure that Carlyle him 
self would have courted the most unsparingly frank delinea 
tion? In the opinion of Froude's biographer he would: 
" Froude was only following the principles laid down by 
Carlyle himself. In reviewing Lockhart's Life of Scott, 
Carlyle emptied the vials of his scorn, which were ample 
and capacious, upon ' English biography, bless its mealy 
mouth.' The censure of Lockhart, for ' personalities, indis 
cretion,' * violating the sanctities of private life,' was, he 
said, better than a good many praises. A biographer should 
speak the truth, having the fear of God before his eyes, and 
no other fear whatever. That Lockhart had done, and in 
the eyes of Carlyle, who admired him as he admired few 
men, it was a supreme merit." 1 As a matter of fact, Froude 

1 Herbert Paul, Life of Froude, pp. 313-14. Read also the 
pages immediately following. Mr. Froude spoke thus for himself: 
" The biographies of the great men of the past, the great spiritual 
teachers especially, with whom Carlyle must be ranked, are gener 
ally useless. They are idle and incredible panegyrics, with the 
features drawn without shadows, false, conventional, and worthless. 
The only ' Life ' of a man which is not worse than useless is a ' Life ' 
which tells all the truth so far as the biographer knows it. He may 


erred not so much in what he published, for which, indeed, 
he has been thoroughly castigated, as in what he did not 
publish. In his desire to pass lightly over certain matters, 
he without doubt left them dark, told them in a way that 
left room for wrong inferences. Had he expressed fully and 
clearly, so far as he knew the truth, matters which he later 
gave in the posthumous pamphlet, My Relations with 
Carlyle, his method would have been less vulnerable. 
Nothing is ever gained by giving just enough to whet 
curiosity, and then leaving the matter dark. 

It was not from any desire to do injustice to Carlyle that 
Froude abstained from reporting his conversation. He 
had thought the matter over carefully, and had come to 
much the same conclusion as had Lockhart before him. " To 
report correctly the language of conversations, especially 
when extendedover a wide period, is almost an impossibility. 
The listener, in spite of himself, adds something of his own 
in colour, form, or substance." 1 Froude no doubt realised 
that he did not possess the gift of reporting conversation; 
even Boswell, as we know, " Johnsonised " his notes of the 
Doctor's talk. 2 Moreover, Carlyle's talk was so much like 
his writing that it was not necessary for Froude to give 

be mistaken, but he has at least been faithful, and his mistakes may 
be corrected. So perhaps may some of mine, especially if particular 
papers have been purposely withheld from me." My Relations with 
Carlyle, p. 40. 

1 Carlyle's Life in London, vol. ii. p. 443. J. W. Cross reached the 
same conclusion, as he tells us in the Preface to the Life of George 
Eliot : " I have refrained almost entirely from quoting remembered 
sayings of George Eliot, because it is difficult to be certain of com 
plete accuracy, and everything depends upon accuracy. Recollec 
tions of conversation are seldom to be implicitly trusted in the 
absence of notes made at the time. The value of spoken words 
depends, too, so much on the tone, and on the circumstances which 
gave rise to their utterance, that they often mislead as much as they 
enlighten when, in the process of repetition, they have taken 
colour from another mind. ' All interpretations depend upon the 
interpreter.' " 

- See chap. vii. of Fitzgerald's BoswelVs A utobiography. 


much of it. " I heard him flinging off the matter intended 
for the rest of the series [of Latter Day Pamphlets] which 
had been left unwritten," records Froude, " pouring out, 
for hours together, a torrent of sulphurous denunciation. 
No one could check him. If any one tried contradiction, the 
cataract arose against the obstacle till it rushed over it and 
drowned it. But, in general, his listeners sat silent. The 
imagery, his wild play of humour, the immense knowledge 
always evident in the grotesque forms which it assumed, 
were in themselves so dazzling and so entertaining that we 
lost the use of our own faculties till it was over." x Who 
that is acquainted with Carlyle's writings could fail to 
recognise " the imagery, the wild play of humour, the 
grotesque forms " here mentioned ? And when Carlyle 
himself has written them all out largely and unstintedly, 
Froude may well be excused from attempting to report, 
lamely, what was no doubt practically impossible to report 

The deliberate errors which have been charged upon 
Mr. Froude have a remarkable way of disappearing under 
careful scrutiny. Mr. David Wilson's " multiply the 
number of errors found in vol. i. p. 5, by the total number 
of pages, 1860, and then consider seriously what such a 
book is worth," 2 is more misleading, even as hyperbole, 
than anything which Froude has written. Even the " gey 
ill to deal with," of which so much has been made, is found 
in the Life in its correct form. 3 Moreover, if Carlyle was 
" gey ill to deal with," as is conceded, there cannot be 
any doubt that he was also at times (not always, to be 
sure nobody says so much) " gey ill to live with." Leslie 
Stephen, a careful student of the matter, and a critic not 
inclined to be too lenient towards him, exonerates Froude 

1 Life in London, vol. ii. p. 41. * Mr. Froude and Carlyle, p. 103. 
* Life in London, vol. ii. p. 91. 


from wilful error : " I have heard Froude accused of ... 
a malicious misrepresentation of the man whom he chose 
as his prophet. I believe such a view to be entirely mis 
taken." 1 An interesting example of the manner in which 
Froude has been misrepresented is found in the Intro 
duction to New Letters and Memorials of "Jane Welsh 
Carlyle (p. xx) where Sir James Crichton-Browne says: 
" It is characteristic of the looseness of Froude's methods 
that he states in the * Life in London ' (vol. ii. p. 408) that 
the manuscript of the * Letters and Memorials * was placed 
in his hands in June 1871, whereas Carlyle, in February 
1873, speaks of it in his will as being still in his possession; 
and, indeed, a number of his notes to it actually bear date in 
that year." Reference to Froude's own statements quickly 
clear the matter up. Froude distinctly states (p. 412) that, 
after receiving the manuscript in June 1871, he sent it to 
John Forster, and (p. 414) that, at the close of 1873, " again 
without note or warning, he [Carlyle] sent me his own 
and his wife's private papers, journals, correspondence, 
reminiscences, etc." 

" I cannot recognise the Carlyle of Mr. Froude in the nine 
volumes as the real and total Carlyle I myself knew," com 
plains Professor David Masson. 2 Most assuredly may 
Professor Masson thus complain! Had he written a Life 
of Carlyle, it would have been Masson's Carlyle that was 
delineated, and Froude could, with as much justification, 
complain that in it he could not recognise the real and total 
Carlyle whom he himself knew. Froude's work need not 

1 Studies of a Biographer, vol. iii. p. 221. Cf. Stephen's letter to 
Charles Eliot Norton: " Still, I do fancy that I understand Froude 
a little better than before. He was terribly put about by the respon 
sibility, and did, I believe, try to speak the truth, though he may 
have been misled by his love of the graphic." Quoted in Frederic 
Maitland's Life of Stephen, p. 483. See also Stephen's article on 
Carlyle in Dictionary of National Biography, and the essays on 
" Carlyle's Ethics " and " Froude " in vol. iii. Studies of a Biographer. 

* Carlyle Personally and in his Writings, pp. lo-xi. 


for this reason be depreciated. A biography represents the 
biographer's conception of the subject, just as a portrait 
represents what the artist has seen in his subject. We all 
recognise that a portrait is not all of the man, nor yet just 
the man we knew: the spirit of life is lacking, just as surely 
as something we saw in the man, which the artist did 
not see, is lacking. Just so a biography cannot be the 
living man that every one of his friends knew. Stanley 
complained of this fact in his Preface to the Life of Arnold, 
where he speaks of those " who will painfully feel the 
contrast which probably always exists in the case of any 
remarkable man, between the image of his inner life, as it 
was known to those nearest and dearest to him, and the 
outward image of a written biography, which can rarely be 
more than a faint shadow of what they cherish in their own 
recollections the one representing what he was the other 
only what he thought and did ; the one formed in the atmo 
sphere which he had himself created the other necessarily 
accommodating itself to the public opinion to which it is 
mainly addressed." The testimony of contemporaries of 
Charles Kingsley does not leave one with the same con 
ception of Mr. Kingsley as one gains from reading the Life 
by Mrs. Kingsley, yet she insists, " we speak that we do 
know, and testify to that we have seen." l It is eternally 
true that a man is persona : he assumes different masks 
when observed by different people masks produced, 
perhaps, by something in the vision of those who do the 
observing. This truth should always be kept in mind, in 
judging any biography. " I must take the story," writes 
Leslie Stephen of Froude's Carlyle, " not as definitive truth, 
but as an aspect of the truth seen from a particular point 
of view." 2 Nothing more just or more discriminating 

1 Life and Letters of Charles Kingsley, vol. ii. p. 477 
2 Studies of a Biographer, vol. iii. p. 223. 


has ever been written by way of criticism on a great 

In the main features, Froude has given us the true 
Thomas Carlyle. Of this there is ample testimony. " By 
nobody," writes Mr. W. G. Collingwood, " more than by 
Mr. Ruskin was Carlyle's reputation valued, and yet he 
acknowledged that Mr. Froude was but telling the truth 
in the revelations which so surprised the public, and much 
as he admired Mr. Norton, he deprecated the attack on 
Carlyle's literary executor, whose motives he understood 
and approved." 1 Professor Masson, too, has given some 
what reluctant testimony to the general value of Froude's 
work in the complete series of Carlyle books : " Nor must 
we forget the prodigious interest and impressiveness, all in 
all, of those nine volumes, or the fact that they themselves 
contain, whether in the autobiographical letters and 
extracts or in Mr. Froude's own comments and narrative, 
so much indirect contradiction and rebuke of the paltry 
misjudgment of Carlyle which many of the readers of the 
volumes have carried away from them that the persistence 
of such readers in their misjudgment can be accounted for 
only by the radical smallness of the average mind, its 
inability to grasp or appreciate anything very uncommon." 2 
To Horace Traubel, Walt Whitman expressed his opinion 
thus : " The books do not have such a black influence over 
me are on the contrary inspiring put some rich blood 
into my poor veins. The Carlyle Froude's Carlyle is its 
own excuse for being: I do not sympathise with the howl 
against it. What justifies it to me is the fact that this is 
Carlyle that and nothing else : just Carlyle: not a picture 
of what he should have been, but of what he was: my 
simple criticism of Froude's life would be, that it gives the 

1 The Life and Work of John Ruskin, vol. ii. p. 243. 
* Carlyle Personally and in his Writings, pp. 9-10. 



man as he was, growl and all." l It is needless to quote 
other such testimony. What those need to do who are 
inclined to judge Froude by the statements of his enemies 
is to read with close scrutiny the Life of Carlyle, and then 
compare " chapter and verse " with the criticisms. The 
exercise will prove wholesome. The hopelessness of setting 
aside the Life of Carlyle is clearly evident to any careful 
student. " Of all Froude's books," writes P. Hume Brown, 
" it is doubtless the one which will preserve his name the 
longest; the eminence and distinctiveness of its subject 
and the skill of the biographer combine to make it a repre 
sentative book of an epoch, and as such it has its only 
companion in Boswell's Life of Johnson" 2 

Trevelyan tells us that Macaulay's was " one of the 
happiest lives that it has ever fallen to the lot of a biographer 
to record." 3 How very different from the task that Froude 
had in hand: if Macaulay's was one of the happiest lives, 
Carlyle's was one of the unhappiest, most heavy-laden. 
The tasks of Trevelyan and of Froude are hardly compar 
able. Set over against the portraits of Carlyle by Watts 
and Millais and Whistler, the truth of the picture limned by 
Froude is not impeached. Froude may have painted after 
the manner of Titian and Vandyke, yet what he has pro 
duced is high art: what he perceived, that he has drawn 
imperishably. " Working with consummate skill upon 
magnificent materials, Froude has constructed a character 
and has left a picture of life-enthralling interest. If his 
Carlyle be one of the most misleading of biographies, it is 
also one of the most fascinating, and should it ever be 
superseded and consigned to the literary lumber-room, 
English readers will be the poorer by the loss of one of the 
most readable books in the language. In sheer literary 

1 With Walt Whitman in Camden, vol. ii. p. 296. 

8 In Chambers' s Encyclopedia of English Literature, vol. iii. p. 503. 

* Life of Macaulay, vol. ii. p. 468. 


skill even Froude never surpassed it." l There is nosign that 
Froude's work is in danger of being set aside. " Froude had 
so much confidence in the essential greatness of the man," 
writes Mr. Herbert Paul, " that he did not hesitate to show 
him as he was, not a prodigy of impossible perfection, but 
a sterling character and a lofty genius. Therefore his 
portrait lives, and will live, when biographies written for 
flattery or for edification have been consigned to boxes or 
to lumber-rooms." 2 

At the very close of the century (1900) appeared Alex 
ander V. G. Allen's Life of Phillips Brooks, a work worthy 
to be named among the greatest of English biographies. 
Beyond doubt it marks the highest point attained by an 
American biographer. Mr. Allen has worked along the 
familiar Boswell-autobiographical method. There is not a 
large amount of conversation recorded, but the extracts 
from letters, diaries, notebooks, and newspapers are copious, 
strictly relevant, and chosen with rare discrimination. 
Although the Life of Brooks marks no advance in method 
of biography, it does stand as a remarkable culmination 
and fulfilment of the theory which Boswell did so much to 
put into practice. After reading Mr. Allen's work one feels 
able in regard to Phillips Brooks to formulate answers to 
the questions suggested by Carlyle: " How did the world 
and man's life, from his particular position, represent 
themselves to his mind ? How did co-existing circumstances 
modify him from without; how did he modify these from 
within ? With what endeavours and what efficacy rule 
over them; with what resistance and what suffering sink 

1 Literature of the Victorian Era, p. 875. While I am far from 
agreeing with all that Professor Walker has written of Froude and 
of Carlyle in this admirable volume, I am glad to say that I consider 
his estimates surprisingly just. They seem to me an evidence of the 
new light in which Froude may yet be held. 

1 Life of Froude, p. 313. 


under them ? In one word, what and how produced was 
the effect of society on him; what and how produced was 
his effect on society ? " Carlyle's further statement forms 
sufficient commentary upon the Life of Brooks : " He who 
should answer these questions, in regard to any individual, 
would, as we believe, furnish a model of perfection in 
biography." x 

The century produced few other biographies worthy to 
be mentioned along with the great models which we have 
just considered. Beyond Southey's Life of Nelson, Mrs. 
Gaskell's Life of Charlotte Bronte, and Trevelyan's Life of 
Macaulay, all other biographies seem on a lower plane. 
John Forster's Life of Dickens, Mrs. Kingsley's Life and, 
Letters of Charles Kingsley, and Hallam Tennyson's Memoir 
of Alfred Tennyson, without marking any advance in the 
evolution of the form, perhaps follow the greater works at 
the least distance. Carlyle's Life of Sterling, which will be 
considered later, is in a class by itself. 

The master biographies appear the greater when con 
trasted with the works of those who have found the 
Boswell-autobiographical method a snare. Of the latter 
we need mention only William Hayley's Life of Cowper, 
William Roberts' Life of Hannah More, Thomas Moore's 
Life of Byron, and J. W. Cross' Life of George Eliot. All 
four of these biographers made the attempt to allow the 
letters and other autobiographical material to tell the life- 
story of the subject; all of them, in one way or another, 
failed to attain great success. Mr. Hayley not only made 
poor use of Cowper's letters, he also succumbed to the 
temptation of lavish panegyric. " We might imagine," 
wrote Robert Sou they in the Annual Review, " that, when 
he sat down to compose, he had provided himself with a 
list of all the laudatory and ornamental epithets in the 
1 Essay on Burns. 


English language, on which he rang his changes in conjunc 
tion with every name that occurred. It would not be easy 
to find a single person mentioned without some panegyric 
addition; and this perpetual strain of compliment throws 
a finical and artificial air over his language, totally repug 
nant to the tone of manly sincerity." l Cowper was one of 
the best letter-writers that England has produced; a fact 
which makes Hayley's failure all the more lamentable. 
" Further " we quote again from Southey's review 
" the thread of narrative is broken, and all due proportion 
of length to importance of matter destroyed by such an 
intermixture [of letters and narrative as made by Hayley]. 
On the whole, we cannot consider it as a just model of this 
species of composition. . . . That the familiar letters of 
men of eminence are of themselves highly pleasing, no one 
will call in question; or that they form excellent matter for 
the use of the biographer who may, with great advantage, 
introduce portions of them, as illustrations of character 
and incident. It is only to this chequered mode of mingling 
them entire, with the staple of the writer's narration, that 
we venture to propose our objections." William Roberts 
complained that he found " difficulty in reducing his 
materials within the compass " of the four volumes forming 
the Life of Hannah More a statement in itself an ad 
mission of inability to distinguish values. Moreover, Miss 
More's letters are connected by the slenderest thread of 
dateless narrative. 

Considering the greatness of the opportunities which the 
subject offered to him, it is hardly too much to say that 
Moore's failure with the Life of Byron is perhaps the most 
conspicuous of the century. Never had a biographer greater 
opportunities: a storm-tossed life full of passion and ad 
venture, letters among the best in the English language, 
acquaintance of long standing all these advantages were 
1 Pp. 457-62 (1803). 


Moore's. He seemed to realise his own inability to cope 
with the task: he professed to give only The Letters and 
Journals of Lord Byron with Notices of his Life. As a matter 
of fact, Moore was not equal to the work: the stormy 
spirit of Byron a Satan in revolt was too great, too 
intractable for the biographer to compass. Moore was not 
a biographical artist. In the two heavy folio volumes of the 
Life, Byron lies buried under a mass of material. Moore is 
discursive, in addition; he adds notes on every possible 
subject; he uses no selection and rejection. Even the style 
of the biography is poor. One realises the force of Carlyle's 
criticism : " A mass of materials is collected, and the 
building proceeds apace. Stone is laid on the top of stone, 
just as it comes to hand; a trowel or two of biographic 
mortar, if perfectly convenient, being spread in here and 
there, by way of cement ; and so the strangest pile suddenly 
arises, amorphous, pointing every way but to the zenith, 
here a block of granite, there a mass of pipe-clay; till the 
whole finishes, when the materials are finished; and you 
leave it standing to posterity, like some miniature Stone- 
henge, a perfect architectural enigma." x After reading the 
Life of Byron, the reader realises, too, that he has a right 
to demand of the biographer an interpretation an artistic 
production; that he should not be left to sit down before 
an undigested mass. " If only good material and literary 
capacity had been needed, Moore's Byron ought to have 
been great." 2 One can appreciate the triumph of Froude 
after tasting the failure of Moore. 

Mr. Cross' failure was due, perhaps, to his carrying the 
autobiographical method too far. " With the materials in 
my hands," he writes in the Preface, " I have endeavoured 
to form an autobiography (if the term may be permitted) 
of George Eliot. The life has been allowed to write itself 

1 Werner. a Walker, Literature of the Victorian Era, p. 924. 


in extracts from her letters and journals. Free from the 
intrusion of any mind but her own, this method serves, I 
think, better than any other open to me, to show the 
development of her talent and character. . . . Excepting 
a slight introductory sketch of the girlhood, up to the time 
when letters became available, and a few words here and 
there to elucidate the correspondence, I have confined 
myself to the work of selection and arrangement." Not 
thus, however, are great lives written: interpretation is 
wanting; the public demands a portrait. " The biography 
of George Eliot as here given is a gigantic silhouette, 
showing how her figure rose against a dull background. 
Background and figure are alike dull. . . . The figure is 
large and imposing, but it is lifeless." l It is perhaps better 
to err in over-emphasising lights and shadows than to make 
both " background and figure alike dull." " By keeping 
himself so much out of sight," suggests the Rev. Thomas 
Davidson of Mr. Cross, " the writer only avoided Scylla to 
fall into Chary bdis, and succeeded in making a book dull and 
lifeless that should have been unusually full of interest." 2 
A biography only becomes " full of interest " as it assumes 
artistic form under the interpreting touch of the biographer. 
Mr. Cross had done better, perhaps at least as well if he 
had merely published George Eliot's correspondence and 
journals. Great biography, in the opinion of the nineteenth 
century, is not attained after Mr. Cross' plan. 

The nineteenth century produced at least one who may 
be called a professional biographer; " no one else," at any 
rate, " made biography so much his business " as did John 
Forster, the great and influential editor of The Examiner. 
Forster was fond of history, and, like Carlyle, to him history 
crystallised into biography. He began his biographical 

1 Edinburgh Review, vol. 161, pp. 514-53. 

1 Chambers' s Encyclopedia, article " Biography." 


labours as editor of the Lives of Eminent British Statesmen 
(1837-39), to which he contributed a number of the Lives, 
afterwards (1864) expanding one of his contributions into 
the elaborate and important Sir John Eliot, A Biography. 
From these historical studies, it was a natural step into 
the field of literary biography, and here Forster wrought 
largely. His work consists of the Life and Adventures 
[later the Life and Times] of Oliver Goldsmith (1848), the 
Life of Walter Savage Landor (1869), the Life of Charles 
Dickens (1872-74), and the unfinished Life of Jonathan 
Swift (1875). In none of these biographies did Forster 
achieve the highest success: all of them are diligently, 
laboriously, and well wrought, good works of craft, 
lacking however the hall-mark of artistic genius, the 
dramatic instinct, " the touch which imparts life." His 
Landor and Dickens must remain authoritative, the mines 
from which all later biographers of these men must dig; 
for Forster was a personal friend of both and had access 
to materials no longer available. He was Landor's literary 
executor and Dickens' most intimate friend. It can hardly 
be said that a reader turns to any of these biographies for 
the sheer pleasure of reading unless, perchance, it be to 
the Goldsmith ; one soon gets the impression that these 
are works to be consulted rather than read. The example 
of Forster leads one to the conclusion that great biographies 
are not to be produced simply by turning to the business 
of writing them; as in the case of poets, biographers seem 
to be born rather than made. 

A noteworthy feature of this century was what may be 
termed the habit of reconstructing a biography; that is, 
the gathering together of all available historical documents, 
facts, and traditions relative to some person and from these 
distilling something like the true story of this person's 
pilgrimage through life. The habit began on a large scale 


not very auspiciously it may be remarked with William 
Godwin's Life of Chaucer (1803). This work has been suffi 
ciently ridiculed by Robert Southey, Walter Scott, and 
Professor Lounsbury. Scott rightly complains that God 
win's researches into the records have produced only " one 
or two writs addressed to Chaucer while clerk of the works; 
the several grants and passports granted to him by Edward 
III. and Richard II. which had been referred to by former 
biographers; together with the poet's evidence in a court 
of chivalry, a contract about a house, and a solitary receipt 
for half a year's salary. These, with a few documents refer 
ring to John of Gaunt, make the appendix to the book, and 
are the only original materials brought to light by the 
labours of the author." l And yet, cries Scott, " behold 
two voluminous quartos ! " " It is," writes Professor 
Lounsbury, " perhaps the earliest, though unhappily not 
the latest or even the largest, illustration of that species of 
biography in which the lack of information about the man 
who is the alleged subject is counterbalanced by long 
disquisitions about anything or everything he shared in or 
saw, or may have shared in or seen. . . . Godwin's life of 
the poet may indeed be declared to deserve the distinction 
of being the most worthless piece of biography in the 
English language certainly the most worthless produced 
by a man of real ability." 2 Robert Southey expressed the 
wish that the plan on which Godwin attempted to write 
the Life of Chaucer might " remain for ever unique." 3 

The work of such reconstruction in spite of Godwin's 
conspicuous failure has gone steadily forward from Scott's 

1 Edinburgh Review, Jan. 1804. Scott wrote in a letter to George 
Ellis (March 19, 1804), "... nor have I either inclination or talents 
to use the critical scalping knife unless, as in the case of Godwin, where 
flesh and blood succumbed under the temptation." Lockhart's Life 
of Scott, vol. i. p. 414. 

* Studies in Chaucer, vol. i. pp. 192-4. 

* Annual Review, vol. ii. p. 456. 


Dryden (1808) to Sidney Lee's Shakespeare (1898). Really 
valuable work has been done and a certain success attained 
by David Masson, whose Life of Milton and History of his 
Time (1859-1880) and Drummond of Hawthornden will long 
remain as monuments of painstaking scholarship; by 
James Spedding in his Life of Bacon (1861); by Professor 
Thomas Lounsbury in his Studies in Chaucer (1892); and 
by George A. Aitken in his Life of Richard Steele (1889), 
which may be recognised as " the fullest and most trust 
worthy existing contribution towards the life and achieve 
ments of a distinguished man of letters who died more than 
a hundred and eighty years ago." * 

This work of reconstructing biographies has been greatly 
aided by the collection and publication of all available 
material which collection and publication it has indeed 
stimulated and fostered. Diaries such as those of Pepys 
and Evelyn; Journals as of Wesley, Fox, and Scott; 
volumes of Correspondence without number; such editions 
as those put forth by Andrew Clark of John Aubrey's 
4 Brief Lives ' and of the Life and Times of Anthony Wood, 
together with the publications of such associations as the 
Chaucer Society- are making the work of the redivival 
biographer easier. 

The scientific spirit which entered into historical writing 
at the beginning of the nineteenth century has dominated 
the writing of such biographical reconstruction as has just 
been discussed. Biography, as a form of history, has felt 
the effect of " the machinery of research," and can never 
again be the unauthentic, half-traditionary thing it was 
before. 2 In the cases of all those whose lives have not been 

1 Austin Dobson, Eighteenth Century Studies, " The Latest Life 
of Steele," Dent's " Wayfarer's Library." 

8 " In the nineteenth century the science of history underwent a 
sort of industrial revolution. The machinery of research, invented 
by the genius of men like Mabillon, was perfected and set going in al 


produced by contemporaries, or by those closely con 
temporary, biography has followed the direction of modern 
scientific research; in the case of contemporary work, it 
follows the carefully arranged autobiographical method, 
which in turn is dominated by scientific accuracy. 

In the first half of the nineteenth century there was a 
definite turning of English biography to foreign countries 
for subject matter. The impetus to this wider outlook was 
given chiefly by Thomas Carlyle, " the really efficient inter 
mediary between the mind of Germany and that of Eng 
land." Carlyle, with his enthusiasm for Goethe, and with 
his essays on German literature, aided by the rising influ 
ence of Berthold George Niebuhr's historical writings, paved 
the way for German biography written in English. We are 
not surprised, therefore, to find that it was to Germany 
that English biographers first began to turn, to an appre 
ciable extent, for subjects. The list of such biographies is 
not inconsiderable; and, in the main, where both have 
written of the same man, the work done by British, has 
scarcely been excelled even by German, biographers. 
George Henry Lewes began his Life of Goethe at a time 
when no German author had undertaken the task; in fact, 
it is no exaggeration to say that the spur given by this 
endeavour of Lewes proved the stimulus for the beginning, 
by the Germans themselves, of modern German biography. 
It is significant that Lewes dedicated his work to Thomas 
Carlyle, as to one " who first taught England to appreciate 
Goethe." It was not, perhaps, until the appearance of 
Dr. Albert Bielschowsky's Life of Goethe (1895) that the 

the archives of Europe. Isolated workers or groups of workers grew 
into national or international associations, producing from archives 
vast collections of material to be worked up into the artistic form 
of history. The result of this movement has been to revolutionise 
the whole subject." James Thomson Shotwell, Encyclopedia 
Bntannica, article " History." 


Germans produced a biography of their great poet worthy 
to take its place with that by Lewes. In 1882, J. H. W. 
Stuckenberg published the first English biography of 
Immanuel Kant, likewise at a time when even in Germany 
little attention had been given to the life of the philosopher, 
and when German biographies of him were far from satis 
factory. To the department of German biographical his 
tory Carlyle's Frederick the Great (1858-65) and John Robert 
Seeley's Life and Times of Stein (1878) remain as monu 
mental contributions. " Surely," writes Professor Walker, 
" no higher compliment was ever paid to a historian than 
that which is implied in the German belief that, down to 
the opening of the German archives, and the publication of 
the correspondence of Frederick in the eighties, Carlyle's 
work was the best, not only as a general history of Frederick, 
but as a study of his campaigns." * In a lesser way, William 
Stigand's Heine (1875) anc ^ James Simes' Lessing (1877) 
demonstrate the competence of the English biographer in 
the province of German literature. Many German bio 
graphical works were meanwhile translated into English, 
such as the Life and, Letters of Niebuhr, 2 the Life of Schleier- 
macher* and Heinrich Diintzer's Schiller and Goethe. 
Before the end of the century English biographers had 
become thoroughly international. Henry Morley with his 
fascinating Life of Jerome Cardan (1854); J^ n Morley 
with his Rousseau (1873), the first full biographical account 
of the French philosopher in English, published when 
" even France had nothing more complete than Musset- 
Pathay's Histoire de la Vie et des Outrages de J. J. Rousseau 
(1821) "; and John Addington Symond's Life of Michael- 
angelo Buonarroti (1893), based on studies in the archives 

1 Literature of the Victorian Era, p. 66. 

2 Edited and translated by Susanna Winkworth. 

3 As unfolded in his Autobiography and Letters, translated by 
Frederica Rowan. 


of the Buonarroti family at Florence, have helped to 
uphold the traditions of English biography abroad. 

So strong is the personal element in a publishing com 
pany or a magazine that a record of its life necessarily 
assumes the form, not so much of history as of biography. 
Two of the oldest publishing houses of Britain have been 
thus biographically chronicled. The first to turn seriously 
to such narrative was Samuel Smiles, who, after John 
Forster, came nearest to being a professional biographer, 
though on a lower plane. In 1891 he completed his John 
Murray, the full title of which reveals the scope of the 
work attempted. 1 It was the intention of Smiles to give a 
" full picture of the literature and principal men of letters 
of the first half of the present [nineteenth] century "; and 
not alone this, for by " going still farther back to the life 
and correspondence of the late Mr. Murray's father [to] 
include, to a certain extent, the literature of the times of 
Dr. Johnson, Dr. Langhorne, Dr. Cartwright, and others." 
In 1897 Margaret Oliphant followed with William Black- 
wood and his Sons, only two volumes of which she lived to 
complete. Mrs. Oliphant's work excels in the delineation 
of character most of her portraits, even to the slight 
sketches, are well done but it lacks something of the con 
centration and coherence of Smiles'. America, likewise, has 
produced two literary histories on this same biographical 
principle. Benjamin Blake Minor in his The Southern 
Literary Messenger summarises the history of this aspiring 
but ill-fated magazine, and incidentally somewhat of the 
story of many of the authors who became well known in the 
annals of nineteenth-century American literature; for this 
magazine, it may be noted, during its comparatively brief 
and troubled career, introduced many of these authors to 

1 A Publisher and his Friends. Memoir and Correspondence of the 
late John Murray, with an account of the Origin and Progress of the 
House, 1768-1843. 


the reading public. It is to be regretted that Mr. Minor did 
not develop more fully the work to which he set his hand. 
Much more elaborate in both design and execution in fact, 
one of the best contributions to this class of biographical 
literature is J. Rainey Harper's The House of Harper* 
Mr. Harper's volume contains excellent reminiscences of 
both American and English authors, and thus binds together 
the course of English literature in the Old World and the 

Although during the nineteenth century the distinction 
between history and biography was clearly recognised, 
nevertheless, in many biographical works, there was a close 
commingling of the two. In some instances, this comming 
ling was the deliberate intention of the writer; in others, 
the almost necessary result of the subject chosen for bio 
graphical treatment. For example, although David Masson 
indicated on the title page of his Life of John Milton that he 
intended the work to be more than a Life* he felt it neces 
sary to repeat in the Preface that he meant it to be not 
merely a biography of Milton, " but also, in some sort, a 
continuous history of his time." Those critics, therefore, 
who have criticised the work from the point of view of pure 
biography, and who have maintained that Professor Masson 
has buried Milton " under a load of digressive dissertations," 
are misjudging him : he at least did what he started out to 
do. Carlyle, in his Oliver Cromwell and Frederick the Great, 
found that he could scarcely do otherwise than go beyond 
the mere personal narrative; the lives of his subjects, he 

1 Although The House of Harper was published in 1912, it has been 
thought best to mention it here. 

* The Life of John Milton : narrated in connexion with the political, 
ecclesiastical, and literary history of his Time. Carlyle spoke of 
" David Masson, sincere and sure of purpose; very brave, for he 
has undertaken to write a history of the universe from 1608 to 1674, 
calling it a ' Life of John Milton.' " Quoted by Campbell Fraser in 
Biographia Philosophica, p. 246. 


perceived, were inextricably bound up with the history of 
the times. Not alone biography, then, nor yet simply 
history, but history presented biographically, these two 
works fulfil the purpose Carlyle had in mind. " It was an 
enormous undertaking," says Froude of the Frederick, 
" nothing less than the entire history, secular and spiritual, 
of the eighteenth century." l To attain success in such an 
undertaking was no small matter, and yet success Carlyle 
attained. " The book [Frederick]," continues Froude, 
" contained, if nothing else, a gallery of historical figures 
executed with a skill which placed Carlyle at the head of 
literary portrait painters." a After reading the work, Pro 
fessor Barrett Wendell commented thus enthusiastically: 
" Such a mass of living facts for somehow Carlyle never 
lets a fact lack life I had never seen flung together before; 
and yet the one chief impression I brought away from the 
book was that to a degree rare even in very small ones it 
possessed as a whole the great trait of unity. In one's 
memory, each fact by and by fell into its own place; the 
chief ones stood out; the lesser sank back into a confused 
but not inextricable mass of throbbing vitality. And from 
it all emerged more and more clearly the one central figure 
who gave his name to the whole Frederick of Prussia. It 
was as they bore on him from all quarters of time and space, 
and as he reacted on them far and wide, that all these events 
and all these people were brought back out of their dusty 
graves to live again. Whatever else Carlyle was, the unity 
of this enormous book proves him, when he chose to be, a 
Titanic artist." 3 M. Taine felt the power of Cromwell : 
" His narrative," writes the French critic, " resembles that 
of an eye-witness. A Covenanter who should have collected 
letters, scraps of newspapers, and had daily added reflec- 

1 Life of Carlyle in London, vol. ii. p. 86. Ibid. p. 284. 

8 English Composition, p. 158. 


tions, interpretations, notes, and anecdotes, might have 
written just such a book. At last we are face to face with 
Cromwell. . . . Would that all history were like this, a 
selection of texts provided with a commentary! I would 
exchange for such a history all the regular arguments, all 
the beautiful colourless narrations of Robertson and 
Hume." 1 All in all, wrestlings with combinations of 
history and biography have ever proved most difficult; 
Carlyle's triumphs have scarcely been surpassed. 

Of one other type of biography Carlyle left a model in 
the Life of John Sterling (1851). A few years before, 
Carlyle had written that " there is no heroic poem in the 
world but is at bottom a biography, the life of a man : also, 
it may be said, there is no life of a man, faithfully recorded, 
but is a heroic poem of its sort, rhymed or unrhymed." 2 
It remained for him to produce, in memory of his friend, 
" an unrhymed heroic poem." Julius Hare had first written 
a Life of Sterling 3 which, in its account of Sterling's 
religious life, did not please Carlyle. " He had waited," says 
Froude of Carlyle, in telling the story of the Life of Sterling, 
4t partly from want of composure, partly that the dust might 
settle a little; and now, having leisure on his hands, and 
being otherwise in the right mood, he re-read Sterling's 
letters, collected information from surviving relatives, and 
without difficulty indeed, with entire ease and rapidity 
he produced in three months what is perhaps the most 
beautiful biography in the English language. . . . Sterling's 
life had been a short one. His history was rather that of the 
formation of a beautiful character than of accomplished 
achievement; at once the most difficult to delineate, yet 
the most instructive if delineated successfully. . . . Some- 

1 History of English Literature (Edinburgh, 1871), vol. ii. pp. 470-1. 

2 Sir Walter Scott. 

3 Prefixed to Essays and Tales by John Sterling, 1848. 


thing of the high purpose which Carlyle assigns to Sterling 
was perhaps reflected from himself, as with a lover's 
portrait of his mistress; yet his account of him is essentially 
as true as it is affectionate." l The work is much greater 
than Johnson's Life of Savage, which it resembles; indeed 
it is difficult to find a work with which to compare the Life 
of Sterling : it belongs in the class of those commemorative 
poems, Lycidas, Tbyrsis, In Memoriam. On John Sterling, 
Carlyle is, beyond all cavil, " definite and final." 2 

More and more, as the century drew near its close, did 
the conviction deepen that the great biography is a work 
of art, a created, a " fictive " thing. 3 " The biographer," 
writes the Rev. Thomas Davidson, " must be more than 
the mere realist who can photograph facts he must be 
something of the idealist as well, for he has to create as 
well as to reproduce: and we value a biography exactly 
in proportion as its author has succeeded in creating for us 
the character of a new man or woman to be added to our 
own personal acquaintance." 4 It is impossible not to feel 
the force of this truth; as has been suggested by Gladstone, 
and as has been proved by so many biographies, no mere 
transcript can give us a notion of the man. Hence arises the 
necessity of the biographer's being also an artist, and of the 

1 Carlyle's Life in London, vol. ii. pp. 68-74. 

1 Trevelyan regrets that Macaulay's prejudice prevented his 
reading Carlyle's Sterling. " Little as he was aware of it, it was no 
slight privation . . . that one who so keenly relished the exquisite 
trifling of Plato should never have tasted the description of Cole 
ridge's talk in the Life of Sterling a passage which yields to nothing 
of its own class in the Protagoras or the Symposium." Life of 
Macaulay, vol. ii. p. 460. 

3 Note what Mr. Oliver Elton has to say in this connexion: " In 
all the dramatic scenes of Scott's life he [Lockhart] shows the power, 
though he never falls into the risks of the novelist. We do not feel 
that the scene has been arranged in his fancy afterwards, and the 
values perverted to give a nobler effect than the truth." A Survey 
of English Literature, 1780-1830, vol. i. pp. 414-5. Cf. also what 
Wordsworth wrote, quoted on p. 230 of the present work. 

* Chambers's Encyclopedia, article " Biography." 



public's conceding to him the freedom to work as an artist. 
Not thus, indeed, is the task of the biographer lightened; 
instead it is made far more difficult and dangerous. 
" Modern scholarship demands, of course, that there shall 
be no transgressions against the truth "; with this statement 
of Professor Albert Elmer Hancock we must all agree; but 
until, in his own phrase again, biography attains " the 
dramatic vitality of fiction," l we cannot allot to it the 
highest, indeed its true, place in literature. 

The line between truth and fiction in life narrative is 
perilously shadowy. " The distinction between biography 
and fiction is easily obliterated when the greatness of the 
subject has elements of the sublime, and when the tempta 
tion to add to the interest of the description by means of 
exaggeration is strong." 2 At this point, we recognise that 
in no other department of literature is an author confronted 
with a more perilous task than when he undertakes to 
write biography. We are reminded of Egerton Brydges* 
Imaginative Biography, the title of which he explains by 
saying that he has erected " an imaginary superstructure 
on the known facts of the biography of eminent char 
acters." 3 Mr. Brydges* volumes contain examples of the 
method, as the title is a warning of the danger, into which 
every biographer may stray. 

The work faintly shadowed forth by John Boston, and 
continued from Leland to Rose's New General Biographical 
Dictionary, culminated in this century in the monumental 
Dictionary of National Biography. This work originated in 
the mind of George Smith in 1 88 1, and, as first contemplatedf" 
was to be universal in scope; upon the advice of Leslie 
Stephen, however, it was determined that it should be only 
national. Stephen held the editorship from November 

1 A. E. Hancock, John Keats. 

3 J. H. W. Stuckenberg, Life of Immanuel Kant, Preface. 

8 Imaginative Biography (1834), Preface. 


1882 until April 1891, when he was succeeded by Sidney 
Lee, who had Been Mr. Stephen's assistant since March 1883, 
and joint editor of the work from the beginning of 1890. 
The first volume appeared in January 1885, and, according 
to plan, the succeeding volumes were issued quarterly 
without interruption. Thus was fulfilled the design of " a 
complete dictionary of national biography which should 
supply full, accurate, and concise biographies of all note 
worthy inhabitants of the British Islands and the Colonies 
(exclusive of living persons) from the earliest historical 
period to the present." Only one other such work the 
Biographia Britannica had ever been brought to com 
pletion in England, Not unfittingly was it said that, 
" Similar works have been produced in foreign countries 
under the auspices of State-aided literary academies, or 
have been subsidised by the national exchequers. It is in 
truer accord with the self-reliant temper of the British race 
that the Dictionary of National Biography is the outcome 
of private enterprise and the handwork of private citizens." * 
Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by 
James Grant Wilson and John Fiske, 1887-89, while filling 
an important place, falls far below the Dictionary of National 
Biography, in both plan and execution. It is less definitive, 
in that it is not limited to deceased persons, and was pro 
duced much too rapidly and hence without the proper com 
pleteness. A Dictionary of American Biography on a proper 
plan is yet a desideratum. 

We have heretofore remarked that during this century 
biography became a business : in no other manner, perhaps, 
did the extent of this business and likewise the extent of 
the demand for biography make itself so demonstrably 
evident as in the number and scope of the " Biographical 

1 See " A Statistical Account," vol. Ixiii. Dictionary of National 


Series " which have become so marked a feature of our 
time. Mr. John Morley, in 1877, projected the English Men 
of Letters series which became the model for most of those 
which have followed. We have but to mention the English 
Men of Action, English Worthies, English Statesmen, 
Eminent Women, The Queen's Prime Ministers, Famous 
Scots, Great Writers, Heroes of the Nations, Westminster 
Biographies, Great Craftsmen, Makers of British Art, 
Modern English Writers, Great Educators, American Men 
of Letters, The World's Epoch-Makers, English Men of 
Science, and The Master Musicians, to give some notion of 
the place in English literature filled by these " Biographical 

The principal object of these different series is to present 
in brief compass the essential facts in the lives of the sub 
jects; in other words, most of the biographies assume the 
form of biographical essays at best, artistic and delightful 
sketches; at worst, industrious compilations. "My chief 
employment at this time," wrote Leslie Stephen to Charles 
Eliot Norton, "is doing a little book on Sam. Johnson, for 
a series of which Morley is editor. ... I am half ashamed 
of the business in one way, for it seems wicked to pick the 
plums out of poor old Bozzy, and yet that is all that is to 
be done." 1 The value of such series for reference has been 
amply demonstrated by the manner in which they have 
supplied a demand; the methods employed, apart from the 
" plum-picking " mentioned by Stephen, are the necessary 
result of the limits set by the scope of the series, and are 
nowhere better set forth than in Mrs. Jebb's statement in 
regard to the volume on Bentley contributed by Professor 
R. C. Jebb to the English Men of Letters series. " He greatly 
enjoyed writing this book," says Mrs. Jebb, " though the 

1 In letter (Dec. 23, 1877) quoted by Frederic Maitland, Life of 
Leslie Stephen, pp. 304-5. 


lesson it taught him was never again to have part or lot in 
a series of any kind. It is a sort of Procrustean bed. No 
matter how much an author has to tell, his narrative must 
be cut off if it grows beyond a certain length. Now, his 
writing was never diffuse, and to compress what was 
already compressed to the limit of artistic proportion was 
in his judgment to spoil. . . . When printed it was found 
to exceed by fifty pages the designated number allotted for 
the series, and the author had to find what time he could 
for pruning its excess." l In short, the series illustrate 
commercialised biographical production. 

A respectable volume devoted to nineteenth-century 
criticism of biography could be collected from such reviews 
as those written by Southey, Scott, Jeffrey, Carlyle, Glad 
stone, et al., and from prefaces and introductions to bio 
graphies, as well as from scattered statements in the 
biographies themselves. Biography has proceeded, however, 
without formal study; it is highly significant that no 
separate volume devoted wholly to the criticism of bio 
graphy appeared 2 until the publication of Sir Sidney Lee's 
"Leslie Stephen Lecture" at Cambridge 1911, on the 
Principles of Biography, to which volume we must neces 
sarily go for a brief summation of all the past criticism of 
English biography. As far back as 1835, ^ mav De pointed 
out, Francis Jeffrey distinguished three kinds of biographies 
those dealing " chiefly with the lives of leaders in great 
and momentous transactions "; those deriving their interest 
from diaries and journals, the works of " autobiographers 
who, without having themselves done anything memorable, 
have yet had the good luck to live through long and interest 
ing periods " ; and those dealing with " philosophers and 
men of genius and speculation . . . whose biographies are 

1 Life ofR. C. Jebb, pp. 232-5. 

1 Except the brief sketch by Edward Edwards in A Handbook to 
the Literature of General Biography (1885). 


to be regarded either as supplements to the works they 
have given to the world, or substitutes for those which they 
might have given . . . histories, not of men, but of 
minds." 1 These types are recognised to-day substantially 
as set forth by Jeffrey. 

It was in this review, also, that Jeffrey pleaded the cause 
of the man of letters. He pleaded, likewise, for the recog 
nition of what Johnson called the art of " writing trifles 
with dignity." " Wheresoever there is power and native 
genius," wrote Jeffrey, " we cannot but grudge the sup 
pression of the least of its revelations; and are persuaded 
that with those who can judge of such intellects, they will 
never lose anything by the most lavish and indiscriminate 
disclosures. Which of Swift's most elaborate productions* 
is at this day half so interesting as that most confidential 
Journal to Stella? Or which of them, with all its utter 
carelessness of expression, its manifold contradictions, its 
infantine fondness, and all its quick-shifting moods, of kind 
ness, selfishness, anger, and ambition, gives us half so strong 
an impression either of his amiableness or his vigour ? How 
much, in like manner, is Johnson raised in our estima 
tion, not only as to intellect but personal character, by the 
industrious eavesdropping of Boswell, setting down day by 
day in his notebook the fragments of his most loose and 
unweighed conversations ? Or what, in fact, is there so 
precious in the works or the histories of eminent men from 
Cicero to Horace Walpole as collections of their private 
and familiar letters ? What would we not give for such a 
journal such notes of conversations, or such letters, of 
Shakespeare, Chaucer, or Spenser? The mere drudges or 
coxcombs of literature may indeed suffer by such dis 
closures as made-up beauties might do by being caught 

1 Edinburgh Review, Oct. 1835, " Memoirs of Sir James Mackin 
tosh "; Contributions to the Edinburgh Review, vol. iv. pp. 501-7. 


in undress: but all who are really worth knowing about 
will, on the whole, be gainers; and we should be well con 
tent to have no biographies but of those who would profit, 
as well as their readers, by being shown in new or in nearer 
lights. ... So far, therefore, from thinking the biography 
of men of genius barren or unprofitable because presenting 
few events or personal adventures, we cannot but regard 
it, when constructed in substance of such materials as we 
have now mentioned, as the most instructive and interest 
ing of all writing embodying truth and wisdom in the 
vivid distinctness of a personal presentment enabling us 
to look on genius in its first elementary stirrings, and in its 
weakness as well as its strength and teaching us at the 
same time great moral lessons, both as to the value of 
labour, and industry, and the necessity of virtues, as well 
as intellectual endowments, for the attaining of lasting 
excellence." The nineteenth was the century of triumph for 
men of letters, and for just such biographical representa 
tion as Jeffrey here discusses. 

A great century of fulfilment it was in this department 
of letters! With a flood of what was worthless or only 
ephemeral, there were also produced a few works which 
must long endure. A tribute is also due to the English 
reading public in that, in an age reputedly given up to the 
reading of fiction, readers have demanded biography in 
quantity well nigh equal to that of fiction. A century 
which produced so many men worthy of record, so many 
biographies worthy of their subjects, and readers in such 
abundance, is a century worthy of the most careful study, 
and one destined to leave a lasting impression upon the life 
of mankind. 




AUTOBIOGRAPHY, no less truly than biography, was 
characteristic of the nineteenth century. A student of the 
form is at first inclined to be overwhelmed by what seems 
an " embarrassment of riches." He soon discovers, however, 
that excellence is rare, and that the line of development, if 
somewhat subtile, is yet clear. We have already seen that 
biography has developed in the direction of a method a 
method more or less carefully followed by all competent 
biographers. The development of autobiography, on the 
other hand, has been in the direction of a manner and 
that a manner of personal revelation. There are vital 
differences between biography and autobiography. Bio 
graphy has been admirably referred to as " a study sharply 
defined by two definite events, birth and death." Thus, a 
true biography is complete it is a finished product wrought 
by an artist out of materials apart from himself. Thejtrue 
autobiography, however, is but a torso it cannot be com 
plete; and it is spun from the very vitals of its author. We 
must expect, then, in autobiography, wide manifestations 
of personality with much less limitation of method than in 
biography. The study of nineteenth-century autobiography 
becomes, therefore, a study of lives personally revealed of 
personal revelations falling into groups determined not so 
much by conscious purpose or imitation as by similarity of 
mind and character, or by the force of some dominant 
intellectual movement. 

In the light of these considerations, it becomes evident 


that autobiography impinges upon the realm of psychology; 
autobiographies are psychological documents of the greatest 
importance. It is significant, in this connexion, that the 
only books in the English language devoted exclusively to 
a consideration of autobiography Anna Robeson Burr's 
The Autobiography , and Religious Confessions and Con- 
fessants are written from the psychological point of view. 1 
The pioneer work of Mrs. Burr in this department of 
literature and psychology helps us to an understanding of 
principles involved in the manifest tendency of English 
autobiography to arrange itself into groups. 

Mrs. Burr, following Gustave Le Bon, points out that all 
persons writing their own lives during the same decade or 
half century would not necessarily fall into the same group. 
It has already been remarked, for example, that different 
groups may exist during the same era: thus, in England, A 

the Quaker journalists form a separate and distinct cluster, 
unconnected with the secular personal records of the time. 
Sporadic cases of self-study occur wholly outside of any 
contemporary influences. Where people have met and 
known one another, or observed and imitated one another, 
or have merely fallen under similar prevailing influences, 
we are warranted in grouping them together. Where con 
temporary self-biographies display the same methods of 
presentation, the same subjective view-point, similar sides 
of frankness, similar corners of reticence, we are warranted 
in grouping them together. As to the personal influence 
exerted by an autobiographer, and the imitation consequent 
thereupon, definite conclusions are not possible. " Proof 
in chapter and verse/' remarks Mrs. Burr, " is not always 

1 These books, it may be well to state, are not limited to a discus 
sion of English works; they are comparative studies. The reader's 
attention is also called to a recent German work, Georg Misch's 
Geschichte der Autobiographic. So far as I know these are the only 
books dealing directly with the subject. 


forthcoming; the subject himself may be ignorant of an act 
of imitation which seems plain to the observer. Man is here 
yet again the child at play. Once the student of these 
narratives has come to cultivate a feeling for personal 
influences, difficult as they may be to analyse and define, 
there grows up a conviction on the whole subject that is 
deep and unshakable." 

Four clearly defined groups may thus be discerned in the 
nineteenth century: a group of imitators of Franklin and 
Gibbon; a group of literary self-analysers, religious and 
introspective in tone; a scientific group; and a literary 
artistic group formed about the Pre-Raphaelite movement. 1 
In addition to these groups, there exists a great body of 
self-biographers who seem to have written for no other 
reason than that they were " driven into a fashion of self- 
explanation which belonged to the time." 2 

The autobiographies of Franklin and Gibbon to which 
may be added that of David Hume have been recognised 
since their publication as classics. They stimulated many 
others to write similar records, most of which follow the 
prototypes at a great distance. Every one who is in the 
least familiar with English literature knows of the auto 
biographies of Franklin, Gibbon, and Hume; perhaps it is 
only to the specialist that the names of Thomas Holcroft, 
William Hutton, Richard Edgeworth, James Lackington, 
Samuel Romilly, Catherine Cappe, Thomas Bewick, and 
William Gifford are familiar. It would be difficult to deter 
mine the extent of direct stimulation to self-delineation 
exerted by these three works; it is, however, a matter of 
literary history that the habit of autobiography followed 
immediately and extensively in their wake. 

In the group of literary self -analysers we observe a 

1 See Appendix, pp. 300-2. 

2 The phrase occurs in Mrs. Oliphant's Autobiography, pp. 4-5, 
and was written in 1885. 


remarkable diversity of purpose and personality. The sad 
wail of Egerton Brydges fills two volumes of a work inter 
esting because it shows " how a man of real talent and love 
of literature may live a long life with a longing desire to do 
something great, and then * die and make no sign.* " J 
John Gait tells his life story because it occurred to him that 
his own adventures were as singular as those of the heroes 
of many novels and that it might be as easy to draw for the 
materials of a book on the memory as upon the imagination; 
in addition to which motive he adds, " I had a mercenary 
object in view, besides other considerations." William 
Wordsworth in The Prelude, or Growth of a Poet's Mind, 
" undertook to record, in verse, the origin and progress of 
his own powers, as far as he was acquainted with them." 
The Prelude he intended as merely introductory to The 
Recluse, the two works " to have the same relation to each 
other as the ante-chapel has to the body of a Gothic church " ; 
his minor pieces, " properly arranged, were to have such 
connexion with the main work as to give them claim to be 
likened to the little cells, oratories, and sepulchral recesses, 
ordinarily included in those edifices." In short, Wordsworth 
deliberately planned and brought partially to completion 
a vast autobiographical temple in verse, and thus stands 
unique among the autobiographers of the century. 2 Leigh 
Hunt says of his autobiography that " a more involuntary 
production it would be difficult to conceive " ; whereas 
Sir Samuel Romilly records that he wrote " for himself, 
himself alone." Coleridge called the Biographia Liter aria 
" an immethodical miscellany." 

The scientific group, containing some great names 
Darwin, Huxley, Bain, Mill, Wallace all of whom wrote 

1 Samuel Longfellow, Life of H. W. Longfellow, vol. i. p. 331. 

1 Wordsworth also wrote a brief prose autobiographical sketch 
which forms chapter ii. of Christopher Wordsworth's Memoirs of 
William Wordsworth. 


their lives with" the scientific intention," is best represented 
by Herbert Spencer's " natural history of himself," of which 
the " two immense volumes, for thoroughness, veracity, 
and scrupulous exactness, form the culminating achieve 
ment of scientific self-delineation." The literary-artistic 
group formed about the Pre-Raphaelite movement, con 
taining the names of W. Holman Hunt, W. M. Rossetti, 
and John Addington Symonds, came to fullest expression 
in the Praeterita of John Ruskin. 

Mrs. Burr has shown quite convincingly that the subjec 
tive tendency rises during certain social and mental condi 
tions, and falls during others; and that this process is the 
same whatever the nation. Comparison shows that the 
conditions under which the subjective tendency rises or falls 
are similar conditions. The general law made manifest may 
be thus stated: *Ihe subjective autobiography groups itself 
about the great intellectual movements and changes of the 
world) and lessens or disappears in times of material change. 
In England, political activities keep the percentage of self- 
examinations extremely low until much later than in other 
countries. English literature shows cases of this kind no 
earlier than 1600. Of twenty important secular autobio 
graphies written before 1700, but six are personal. The vio 
lent fluctuations just after the Restoration, followed by the 
Quaker and other religious movements, mark the first high 
point; the second is not reached until the nineteenth 
century when the great scientific upheaval shifted the whole 
intellectual point of view. 

" Just as the iron filings rise and cluster about a magnet," 
concludes Mrs. Burr, " so do men's individualities rise to 
expression under the influence of a current of thought. 
The impulse is not to be explained by the general theory 
that warlike periods of national life are apt to be followed 
by an outburst of literary and creative energy. The English 


and Italian tables [of autobiography] both give examples 
of the rise in the self-study at a time of general literary 
stagnation, preceding marked intellectual changes. The 
English scientific group begins at the very ebb of the 
greater literary activities of the nineteenth century. Find 
the dawn of new ideas, find the moment when men's minds 
begin to submit to the shaking power of an intellectual 
change, and there you will find the attempt at self-under 
standing expressed in a group of personal records. The 
observation of great movements at work in himself causes 
a man fresh interest in himself: the observation of a similar 
movement at work in others makes a man wish to state his 
position, to define his credo. The atmosphere of doubt, 
restlessness, insecurity, caused by intellectual upheavals, 
produces in the serious mind a desire to clear the ground 
for himself, and to aid others produces, in a word, the 
autobiographical intention. And so we find these cases 
following the law, and grouping themselves about move 
ments of intellectual significance." l 

Among the miscellaneous, ungrouped autobiographies 
of the century we find the most diverse manifestations of 
personality. They vary all the way from the " wandering 
memorials of my own life and casual experiences," as 
Thomas De Quincey calls his Autobiographic Sketches, and 
the dream-phantasies of his Confessions of an Opium Eater, 
to General Ulysses S. Grant's straightforward and soldierly 
Memoirs. Cardinal Newman reveals himself in his Apologia 
pro Vita Sua ; his brother, Francis Newman, in the Phases 
of Faith. Lord Broughton and Augustus J. C. Hare are as 
voluminous as Mrs. Oliphant and Philip Gilbert Hamerton 
are brief. The kind of autobiographical document pro 
duced is governed by the personality of the writer; we 
do not know just what to expect when we pick up such a 
x The Autobiography, pp. 186-7. 


document for the first time any more than we know what to 
expect when we are introduced for the first time to some 
one whom we have never before seen or heard of. The 
manner is the method a part of the man himself. 

In all the realm of English autobiographical literature 
there exists no more poignantly sad, pathetic narrative 
than the fragment left by Mrs. Oliphant. Of the many 
volumes written by this brave, overworked little woman 
it is the one which deserves to live longest. In the most 
unassuming manner touched perhaps by a little too 
much of self-pity she tells the story of a life upon which 
sorrows crowded in swift succession and over which hung 
much of the gloom voiced in Greek poetry; as we read, a 
fragment of the Greek anthology insistently echoes through 
our consciousness : 

" Alas! Peristera, sad ills you bore; 
The Fates work ever thus, 
And the worst evils that they have in store 
Are never far from us." x 

Although her sketch closes with a note of despair which 
renders further utterance impossible, the whole is not the 
work of a pessimist. In spite of heaped-up sorrow, Mrs. 
Oliphant never lost faith in the eternal goodness of God; 
she was one of those who " marched breast forward, never 
doubting clouds would break." 

Lord Broughton's Recollections of a Long Life, and 
Augustus J. C. Hare's The Story of my Life, each extending 
to six volumes, exhibit the extreme length to which recent 
autobiographies have attained. The work of Mr. Hare is 
more typical ; that of Lord Broughton, privately printed in 
five volumes in 1865, was not given to the public until 
1909, when his daughter, Lady Dorchester, taking the early 

1 J. A. Pott's translation from Leonidas, in Greek Love Songs and 
Epigrams, pp. 29-30 (first series). 


part of the five volumes as a basis, incorporated therewith 
portions of diaries and published works. Mr. Hare, how 
ever, completed his own design a design thus described 
by himself: "My story is a very long one, and though 
only, as Sir C. Bowen would have called it, * a ponderous 
biography of nobody,' is told in great most people will 
say in far too much detail. But to me it seems as if it were 
in the petty details, not in the great results, that the real 
interest of every existence lies. I think, also, though it may 
be considered a strange thing to say, that the true picture 
of a whole life at least an English life has never yet been 
painted, and certainly all the truth of such a picture must 
come from its delicate touches. Then, though most readers 
of this story will only read parts of it, they are sure to be 
different parts." l The minuteness and prolixity of Mr. 
Hare's work may well be set over against the condensation 
and brevity of David Hume's life story. English literature 
thus contains admirable examples of both the brief and the 
long autobiography. 

The tendency of autobiography to merge into fiction 
grew increasingly apparent during this century. We have 
already noted John Gait's observation that " it might be 
as easy to draw for the materials of a book on the memory 
as upon the imagination " ; from the point of view of the 
reader, he remarked that " a man must not forget, that 
however important the incidents of his life may be to 
himself, the general body of readers will regard his memoirs 
but as a common book, and never trouble themselves, in 
pursuit of pastime, to ascertain whether what they read 
consists of fact or fiction." 2 This carelessness on the part of 
readers as to the distinction between fact and fiction may 
or may not be the reason for the increasing fictional element. 

1 The Story of My Life, vol. i. Preface. 

1 The Literary Life of John Gait, vol. i. p. 338. 


Suffice it to say, the tendency is present and is recognised. 
" The question of what is actual autobiography and what 
is so coloured as to become practically fiction, must always 
be a matter of opinion." l In no autobiographical docu 
ments is the question more apparent than in George 
Sorrow's Lavengro and The Romany Rye. Sorrow's bio 
graphers agree that, in the main, the two works are auto 
biographical; that it was Sorrow's original intention that 
Lavengro especially should be so. 2 The difficulty is where 
to draw the line. " ' What is autobiography ? ' Borrow once 
asked Mr. Theodore Watts-Dunton (who had called his 
attention to ' several bold coincidences in Lavengro '). 'Is 
it the mere record of the incidents of a man's life ? or is it a 
picture of the man himself his character, his soul ? ' " 3 
The question is not yet settled. 

After all these centuries we may well ask what form 
English autobiography has attained. As a general fact, 
we may say that it is, on the whole, much more full and 
explicit than biography, with less of concealment. The 
development of English prose style has influenced it 
appreciably, though one cannot say that, on the whole, 
since the days of Franklin, Gibbon, and Hume, the style of 
autobiography has grown remarkably better. Whatever 
gain there has been in organic structure is still blurred by 
the fact that autobiography is fragmentary and governed 
by the whims of the writer. On but one point is there 

1 Herbert Jenkins, The Life of George Borrow, p. 396. 

8 See Jenkins' Life of Borrow and William I. Knapp's Life, 
Writings, and Correspondence of George Borrow, passim. "In 1851 
appeared the first of two remarkable books, Lavengro and The 
Romany Rye, in which George Borrow, if he did not exactly create, 
brought to perfection from some points of view what may be called 
the autobiographic novel." George Saintsbury, The English Novel, 
pp. 255-6. 

3 Quoted by Herbert Jenkins in Life of Borrow, p. 396, from 
" Notes upon George Borrow " prefaced to an edition of Lavengro 
issued by Ward, Lock & Co. 


manifest agreement among autobiographers. " I must so 
far follow the method of autobiographers as to begin with 
a few notices of my birth," wrote Egerton Brydges. To 
begin with the pedigree and in many instances to carry it 
to inordinate length has become a general autobiographi 
cal habit. Add to this habit the prominent element of 
apology for since the beginning these self-biographers 
have seemed to feel that they are called upon to justify 
their work and the points of agreement are practically 
exhausted. It is scarcely too much to say that every 
autobiographer is a law unto himself. 

We have but to read autobiographies to discover the 
diversities of opinion existing among the writers them 
selves as to just what material should be included. They 
vary, in theory and in practice, from the statement ot 
Egerton Brydges, that " it is not the business of a self- 
memorialist merely to give the characters of others, which 
he has had an opportunity of observing; to apply a mirror 
to his own heart is his first business," l to that of Francis 
Jeffrey: " Life has often been compared to a journey; and 
the simile seems to hold better in nothing than in the 
identity of the rules by which those who write their travels, 
and those who write their lives, should be governed. When 
a man returns from visiting any celebrated region, we 
expect to hear much more of the remarkable things and 
persons he has seen, than of his own personal transactions; 
and are naturally disappointed if, after saying that he lived 
much with illustrious statesmen or heroes, he chooses 
rather to tell us of his own travelling equipage, or of his 
cookery and servants, than to give us any account of the 
character and conversation of those distinguished persons. 

1 Autobiography, vol. i. p. 277. In vol. ii. p. 231, Mr. Brydges also 
remarks that " if inward workings are not frankly disclosed, nothing 
is done." 


In the same manner, when, at the close of a long life spent 
in circles of literary and political celebrity, an author sits 
down to give the world an account of his retrospections, it 
is reasonable to stipulate that he shall talk less of himself 
than of his associates." 1 

Practically all autobiographers agree that truth should 
be striven for. " A memoir-writer may delude himself, 
but he must not falsify. If he does delude, the delusion 
forms part of his character; and he must take the conse 
quence." 2 Herbert Spencer, however, is of the conviction 
that such truth can be only approximated : " At first sight 
it seems possible for one who narrates his own life and 
draws his own portrait to be quite truthful; but it proves 
to be impossible. There are various media which distort 
the things seen through them, and an autobiography is a 
medium which produces some irremediable distortions." 3 

There is a consensus of opinion, on the other hand, that 
it is impossible for an autobiographer to conceal the manner 
of man that he is. " It has frequently been said that an 
autobiography must of necessity be an untrue representa 
tion of its subject, as no man can judge himself correctly. 
If it is intended to imply that somebody else, having a 
much slighter acquaintance with the man whose life is to be 
narrated, would produce a more truthful book, one may be 
permitted to doubt the validity of the inference. Thousands 
of facts are known to a man himself with reference to his 
career, and a multitude of determinant motives, which are 
not known even to his most intimate friends, still less to 
the stranger who so often undertakes the biography. The 
reader of an autobiography has this additional advantage, 
that the writer must be unconsciously revealing himself 

1 Edinburgh Review, April 1806; Contributions to the Edinburgh 
Review, vol. iv. pp. 403-4, review of Memoirs of Richard Cumberland. 
* Egerton Brydges, Autobiography, vol. ii. p. 121. 
8 Autobiography, vol. ii. p. 28. 


all along, merely by his way of telling things." l Leslie 
Stephen voiced the same sentiment: " It may be reckoned 
... as a special felicity that an autobiography, alone of 
all books, may be more valuable in proportion to the 
amount of misrepresentation which it contains. We do not 
wonder when a man gives a false character to his neighbour, 
but it is always curious to see how a man continues to 
present a false testimonial to himself. It is pleasant to be 
admitted behind the scenes and to trace the growth of that 
singular phantom, which, like the Spectre of the Brocken, 
is the man's own shadow cast upon the coloured and 
distorted mists of memory." 2 

An examination of English autobiography discloses the 
fact so far, at least, as a reader may judge that the 
writers of their own lives have been unusually frank and 
full in their self-revelations. " It may be said," remarks 
Egerton Brydges, " that almost all men wish to appear to 
the whole world in a character which does not belong to 
them, and that by their own pens they will most probably 
portray themselves in that character. Experience proves 
that this has not been the case with autobiographers ; and 
that many things have been thus known and admitted to 
be true, which would otherwise have died with the writers." 3 
Perhaps this truthfulness has had something to do with 
the fact that most autobiographies have been posthumously 
published; the authors have no doubt shrunk from facing 
the truth in cold print, in their own lifetime. " Many," 
says Mr. Brydges, " have written an autobiography; but 
few have had the courage to let them appear during their 
own lives." 4 

All in all, the nineteenth century brought forth a notable 

1 P. G. Hamerton, Autobiography, pp. i-2. 
1 Hours in a Library, vol. iii. p. 237. 
* Autobiography, vol. ii. p. 211. 
4 Ibid. 414. 


body of autobiography. All classes of English-speaking 
people, from the highest to the lowest, have written their 
stories " with their own hands." He who would understand 
the genius of this people in its varied manifestations need 
only turn to this branch of English literature. He will 
meet a large and strangely assorted company, and may 
leave it with the bewildered impression that one so often 
feels in leaving such assemblies. Whether or not he carries 
away from this company of autobiographers any impression 
of definite, unified groups and it is very probable that he 
will he will at least bear with him the feeling that he has 
met the English-speaking world in little, that in the micro 
cosm he has come to know the macrocosm. 



ALONG with its rich contribution, the past has bequeathed 
many problems. Some of these are persistent, and seem to 
defy positive solution. After centuries of experimentation, 
there emerges, for instance, no best order of arrangement. 
What Isaac Watts wrote in 1725 in regard to methods of 
procedure employed by biographers applies as truly to-day 
as when it was first written: " So in writing the Lives of 
men, which is called biography," the words are from the 
Logic* " some authors follow the track of their years and 
place everything in the precise order of time when it 
occurred; others throw the temper and character of the 
persons, their private life, their public stations, their 
personal occurrences, their domestic conduct, their speeches, 
their books or writings, their sickness and death, into so 
many distinct chapters." By some writers of the eighteenth 
century the problems were passed over lightly. " The 
biographer and historian," we are quoting from the Rev. 
Samuel Burdy, " have materials provided for them; their 
business then is only to arrange with skill and express with 
perspicuity." 2 The " only " so easily and casually inserted 
by Mr. Burdy does not lessen the difficulties; biographers 
still find that efforts to arrange with skill and to execute 
with perspicuity require all the power and ability that can 
be summoned. 

Apart from these technical problems, perhaps the greatest 
is to differentiate history from biography. This is a very 

'Pp. 516-7. 

1 Life of Philip Skelton (1792), p. 71, of the Oxford University 
Press edition, in which the work is now easily accessible. 


old problem, arising out of the fact that biography was 
for so long considered merely a branch of history. 
From the days of George Cavendish, most biographers 
have had occasion to refer to their difficulties in dealing 
with this problem. " Many writers have divided the 
reign of a prince from his life, and so have given the 
actions without the man ; the political occurrences without 
the genius that gave a rise and a turn to them." In these 
words the line of demarcation is clearly drawn; the danger 
of failure resulting from such division is as clearly suggested. 
A solution seems necessary, and to the writer in question 
the solution lay along the path of compromise: " It shall be 
the present design to write the life as well as the reign of 
this unfortunate prince [Charles I.], and give all the true 
characters of his person along with a relation of all the 
affairs of his government." * Attempts to arrive at a better 
or a different solution have been many. 

The theoretical elements of the problem have been well 
stated by the Rev. Edward Edwards. Mr. Edwards was 
not alone a theorist, however; in his Life of Sir Walter 
Raleigh he was face to face with the difficulties which he 
sets forth. 2 He was, in addition, a careful and enthusiastic 
student of biography in general. We quote his statements 
at length : 

" Part of the enduring charm of biographical literature seems to be 
close akin to the charms of dramatic art. And that resemblance 
might, perhaps, be made the basis of a somewhat more sharply 

1 Rennet's History of England, Anonymous Life and Reign of 
Charles I. 

* Students of biography will be interested in this Life of Raleigh. 
In it, Mr. Edwards made the attempt to refrain from the delineation 
of " great national transactions . . . even by way of giving an 
historical background to his own humble theme." He also printed 
Raleigh's letters in a volume separate from the Life. Thus, remarks 
the author, " readers will find in it a two-fold departure from 
methods which, of late years, have become very common in English 
biography." The work was published in 1868, 


defined distinction between the proper province of ' biography ' and 
that of ' history,' than is given in the current definitions. It has 
been said that ' biography ' is the life of a man ; ' history ' the life 
of a nation. There is truth, as well as point, in the saying. But 
plainly, the definition does not carry all the truth. A good biography 
has a dramatic interest (though not a dramatic completeness) about 
it, to which the best history of a nation can never attain. In the 
well-told story of any energetic and individual life there is always an 
undercurrent of tragedy, so to speak. We cannot feel for the fortunes 
of a crowd of men, as we feel for the fortunes of one particular man. 
Very few, perhaps, of those that read attentively the story of a 
really memorable life, are insensible to the temptation, as they reach 
the closing pages, of turning back again to the opening pages. 
Whether or not the writer may have tried to ' sum up ' the life he 
has been narrating, most thoughtful readers feel constrained to 
make a summary and an estimate of their own. They are led to 
compare the early promise with the late performance; the long 
toils of the seed-time with the hurried joys of harvest. They strive 
to realise, within their own minds, some of those many personal 
retrospections which they are sure must have given colour bright 
or sombre to the last days, and to the latest thoughts, of the man 
they have been reading about. Such readers get to feel, as with the 
vividness of personal experience, that the most successful and best- 
rounded life is always incomplete, and almost always, in a measure, 
tragic. They see that the man who has been, in appearance, most 
thoroughly enabled by an Almighty Overruler, to do with his life 
what, in his youthful and best moments, he planned to do with it, 
has yet fallen far short of his aspirations; and that his life is frag 
mentary. They ask themselves, ' Is this, in truth, the end ? ' ' Is it 
not, rather, a beginning ? ' Such questions as these do not so readily 
arise in our minds as we read of the revolutions of empires, or the 
vicissitudes of nations. . . . 

" We commonly speak, indeed, of the ' national mind ' the 
' national responsibilities ' the ' national life.' And there is neither 
vagueness nor strain in such language. A people has continuity of 
spirit beneath change of form, not less truly though diversely 
than has a nation. The historian who fails to bring out the collective 
life of a nation, as well as its outward story, misses his function as 
certainly as does the biographer who tells the sayings and doings of 
his subject from cradle to grave, but tells them in a way that throws V/ 
no ray of light on the growth of his intellect, or the life of his soul. 
With spiritual life (in the truest sense of the term) the historian is 
not concerned. The collective life of a nation has its boundaries and 


its term. That national life has very far-reaching issues. But they 
are all finite. . . . 

" When one man has for a time almost embodied the collective life 
of a nation, how ought the mere biographer to deal or attempt to 
deal with the individual and personal career of the man as dis 
tinguished from the career of the monarch or temporary leader of a 
people ? Does such a man belong to biography at all ? . . . 

" In the most ordinary lives if they be worth telling at all the 
biographer has a two-columned story to tell, or to interweave. There 
is the column of outward incidents, and also the column of that 
intellectual and spiritual growth which is being continually evolved 
beneath them. Must the biographer in these exceptional cases [such 
as those of Napoleon and Frederick the Great] attempt to fill three 
columns in parallel fulness the third of them being hardly less than 
the story of a nation? The biographer who should attempt that 
would as surely destroy the proper unity of his work as such an unity 
has been, many times, destroyed by some painters of battle-pieces. 
The too-ambitious artist has occasionally striven to depict a battle 
by exhibiting upon his canvas the muster-rolls of two armies. The 
result has been a vast crowd of figures which only depict ' a battle ' 
in the unfortunate sense that they are mutually destructive. The 
prudent biographer will, perhaps, be inclined to solve the difficulty 
by handing over much of his second column, and nearly all of the 
third, to the historian whenever he has to deal with the Napoleons 
and the Fredericks. To chronicle the doings of men of that class is 
the historian's province. To make some roughly effective summary 
of these doings, in the way of epitome or extract, will be all that can 
fairly come within the province of biography. The real biographer 
cannot, indeed, conceive of a Napoleon whose inmost mental and 
spiritual history has not been shaped by that wonderful life-itinerary 
which began at Ajaccio to end at Longwood. He cannot sever, even 
in thought, the plastic working of the studious days at Auxonne, or 
of the conversations at Beaucaire, from that of the exultant moments 
of Austerlitz, or the bitter hours of Waterloo. But he will not, on 
that account, incur the danger of becoming a mere annalist in a 
vain attempt to unite two several functions, each of which is arduous 
enough to put a strain on mental power at its best." l 

1 In A Handbook to the Literature of General Biography, pp. 1 3-22. 
This work, by the Rev. Edward Edwards in collaboration with the 
Rev. Charles Hole, was projected in eight parts, of which only the 
first, " General Biography extending over all Ages," was printed, 
in pamphlet form, at Ventnor, Isle of Wight, 1885. The edition 
consisted of only 250 copies. The most interesting and illuminative 
paragraphs are reprinted in the present work. 


In the light of the quotations just given it is well to 
consider the actual practice of a number of biographers 
who have found themselves confronted by this problem 
in its strongest aspects. Few modern biographers have 
shirked the difficulty; most have attempted a solution. 
" To enter the domain of history by the pathway of bio 
graphy," observes Sir Henry Craik, " is a task beset with 
peculiar doubts and difficulties. How far is it permissible 
to stray from the narrow pathway we have chosen, and 
expatiate upon aspects of the time, which do not fall within 
the personal experience of him whose life we attempt to 
portray ? If we restrict ourselves too much, we move blind 
folded along an obscure track; if we range too freely, we 
lose the identity of the single stream we seek to follow 
amidst a multitude of devious channels. In writing a 
biography above all, in writing the biography of one 
who has played a large part in the leading transactions of 
his time we must build up for ourselves a structure of 
general history; and having done so, we must then knock 
ruthlessly away, like temporary scaffolding, all that is not 
essential to the personal figure which we attempt to 
present. ... I am aware that, by some, the biographical 
aspects of history may be esteemed as but a subsidiary 
matter, falling beneath the dignity of its more severe 
domain, and of its larger theories, and foreign to what, in 
modern jargon, is called the science of history. But in the 
general, and not unsound, judgment of mankind, these 
aspects can never lose their permanent interest." * 

" In what we are to say," writes Walter Sichel at the 
beginning of his Bolingbroke and bis Times, " we shall try 
to avoid the error which mistakes a sequence of dates for 
an intelligence of energies the style which is a mere 
nuntia vftustatis, as well as that second-hand repetition of 
1 The Life of Edward Earl of Clarendon, Preface. 


prejudice which, in Bolingbroke's own words, ' converts 
history into authorised romance.' Character even more 
than achievement will be our study. To interpret events by 
character and not character by events, is the true historical 
method. For, indeed, the peruser of chronicles is too often 
reminded of an auction in some ancient manor. The garni 
ture is dispersed in order and catalogued for sale. The 
inventories are tritely truthful and superficially solid. But 
the mainspring of memories, the intimacies of association 
are wanting; the ghosts that haunt the whispering corridors 
are invisible and neglected. It is a sale of dead lumber." 1 
To no one, perhaps, was the problem presented in more 
serious form than to John Morley. " Every reader will 
perceive," such are Mr. Morley's words, " that perhaps the 
sharpest of all the many difficulties of my task has been 
to draw the line between history and biography between 
the fortunes of the community and the exploits, thoughts, 
and purposes of the individual who had so marked a share 
in them. In the case of men of letters, in whose lives our 
literature is admirably rich, this difficulty happily for 
their authors and for our delight does not arise. But where 
the subject is a man who was four times at the head of the 
government no phantom, but dictator and who held this 
office of first minister for a longer time than any other 
statesman in the reign of the Queen, how can we tell the 
story of his works and days without reference, and ample 
reference, to the course of events over whose unrolling he 
presided, and out of which he made history ? . . . Assuredly 
I am not presumptuous enough to suppose that this diffi 
culty of fixing the precise scale between history and bio 
graphy has been successfully overcome by me. It may be 
that Hercules himself would have succeeded little better." 2 

1 Vol. i. p. 10. 

a The Life of William Ewart Gladstone, vol. i. pp. 1-2. 


" For a thing so commonly attempted," the words are 
from the Preface of Winston Spencer Churchill's Lord 
Randolph Churchill, " political biography is difficult. The 
style and ideas of the writer must throughout be subor 
dinated to the necessity of embracing in the text those 
documentary proofs upon which the story depends. Letters, 
memoranda, and extracts from speeches, which inevitably 
and rightly interrupt the sequence of his narrative, must 
be pieced together upon some consistent and harmonious 
plan. It is not by the soft touches of a picture, but in 
hard mosaic or tessellated pavement, that a man's life 
and fortunes must be presented in all their reality and 
romance. I have thought it my duty, so far as possible, to 
assemble once and for all the whole body of historical 
evidence required for the understanding of Lord Randolph 
Churchill's career." 

Arthur Christopher Benson had before him a difficult 
problem in ecclesiastical history in writing the life of his 
father, Edward White Benson, Archbishop of Canterbury. 
" There appeared no choice," says Mr. Benson in the 
Preface, " between slowly and gradually evolving an 
elaborate work, which should be a minute contribution to 
the ecclesiastical history of the time and for that my 
professional life as well as my own capacity afforded me 
little opportunity and sketching in broad outlines and 
rapid strokes, with as much living detail as possible, a 
biographical portrait. ... It seemed better to attempt 
to draw as careful a picture of my father's life and character 
as possible, and to touch on events through the medium 
of personality rather than reveal personality through 
events. . . ." 

In concluding a discussion of this problem we may bear 
in mind the opinions of two modern writers qualified to 
speak as well by study of the subject as by actual practice 


in writing biography. " Broad views," in the opinion of 
Edmund Gosse, " are entirely out of place in biography, 
and there is no greater literary mistake than to attempt 
what is called the ' Life and Times ' of a man. . . . History 
deals with fragments of the vast roll of events; it must 
always begin abruptly and close in the middle of affairs; 
it must always deal, impartially, with a vast number of 
persons. Biography is a study sharply defined by two 
definite events, birth and death. It fills its canvas with one 
figure, and other characters, however great in themselves, 
must always be subsidiary to the central hero." l Leslie 
Stephen offers a solution: " The provinces of the historian 
and the biographer are curiously distinct, although they are 
closely related. History is of course related to biography 
inasmuch as most events are connected with some particu 
lar person. . . . And, on the other hand, every individual 
life is to some extent an indication of the historical condi 
tions of the time. . . . And yet, the curious thing is the 
degree in which this fact can be ignored on both sides. If 
we look at any of the ordinary collections of biographical 
material, we shall constantly be struck by the writer's 
unconsciousness of the most obvious inferences. . . . Thus, 
I have sometimes noticed that a man may be in one sense a 
most accomplished biographer; that is, he can tell you off 
hand a vast number of facts, genealogical, official, and so 
forth, and yet has never, as we say, put two and two together. 
I have read lives giving minute details about the careers of 
authors, which yet prove unmistakably that the writers 
had no general knowledge of the literature of the period. 
A man will know every fact about all the people mentioned, 
say, in Boswell, and yet have no conception of the general 
position of Johnson, or Burke, or Goldsmith in English 
literature. . . . Now the first office of the biographer is to 
1 Encyclopedia Bntannica, article " Biography.' 


facilitate what I may call the proper reaction between 
biography and history; to make each study throw all 
possible light on the other; and so to give fresh vitality 
to two different lines of study, which, though their mutual 
dependence is obvious, can yet be divorced so effectually 
by the mere Dryasdust." l The problem, however, yet 
remains; in the practical solution of it, biographers of the 
present and the future will find full scope for their energies, 
and the manner of its solution will no doubt constitute the 
chief contribution yet to be made to the development of 

It would seem that biographers, in the toils of such 
material as they are frequently called upon to struggle 
with, are not free to work as they choose. We witness 
their painful endeavours; we listen to their complaints; 
we accept their apologies. In the face of such struggles, 
such complaints, such apologies, we come to feel that there 
must be such a thing as pure biography, and that it is for 
the attainment of this that every true biographer is panting. 
Trevelyan telling us that in the Life ofMacaulay he touches 
politics only " in order to show to what extent Macaulay 
was a politician, and for how long," or avoiding criticism 
of Macaulay's literary labours in the expressed belief that 
" it is not the province of biography to dilate upon works 
which are already before the world " ; Morley openly 
passing over " the detailed history of Mr. Gladstone as 
theologian and churchman " ; Edmund Gosse discussing 
the scientific labours of his father, Philip Henry Gosse, 
only in so far as they throw light upon the personality of 
the man; Benson explaining that he will not attempt to 
write the full story of his father's ecclesiastical career; 
Robert S. Rait affirming, " If I have written a defence of 
the General whose life I have attempted to tell, it is 
1 Studies of a Biographer, vol. i. pp. 12-15. 


because my materials made such a defence the only 
possible form that a biography of Lord Gough could take " 
in these typical examples we have ample testimony to 
the feeling of limitation the hampering influence of a 
difficulty hard to surmount. All would evidently like to 
avoid the problems involved and write only of the man. 
Perhaps to do so is not entirely possible. In the case of 
literary men there would seem to be most possibility of 
attaining to pure biography. 

The problem of dealing with genealogical details con 
fronts the biographer of the present. Since the publication 
of Oldys' Life of Raleigh, there has been a growing tendency 
to go into ancestral details, a tendency that has been 
greatly strengthened by the elaborate research methods 
so characteristic of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. 
There is arising in the minds of many the question whether 
such long and detailed treatment of genealogy is necessary 
for biography. Boswell gets along very well without intro 
ducing much of ancestral record in the Life of Johnson ; it 
is a question whether Lockhart's Life of Scott is the better 
for the length of such record. " The interest in our ances 
tors," comments Andrew Lang, " ' without whose life we 
had not been,' may be regarded as a foible, and was made 
matter of reproach, both to Scott and his biographer. . . . 
Scott was anxious to realise his own ancestry to his imagina 
tion; . . . whatever he had in himseK he would fain have 
made out a hereditary claim for. In this taste there is not 
wanting a domestic piety; and science, since Sir Walter's 
day, has approved of his theory, that the past of our race 
revives in each of us." l We must take into consideration, 
also, the statement of Carlyle that " the history of a man's 
childhood is the description of his parents and environ 
ment." 2 In the face of all this, however, there is evidence 

1 Life and Letters of Lockhart, vol. i. pp. 1-2. * Life of Sterling. 


that many will follow Froude's biographer: " In reading 
biographies," admits Mr. Paul, " I always skip the genea 
logical details. To be born obscure and to die famous has 
been described as the acme of human felicity. However 
that may be, whether fame has anything to do with happi 
ness or no, it is a man himself, and not his ancestors, whose 
life deserves, if it does deserve, to be written. Such was 
Froude's own opinion, and it is the opinion of most sensible 
people." l From the point of view of science, the details of 
a man's ancestry may be highly valuable, and for such 
purpose may be duly set forth in a scientific work. On the 
other hand, there is not much doubt that hereafter the 
canon of unity will rule out of biography proper the most 
of genealogical detail. We may look, in the future, to see 
all save the strictly relevant genealogical details relegated 
to an appendix. 

Ever since the value of correspondence became evident 
to biographers, letters have been made use of freely. The 
problem of the proper method of adapting correspondence 
to the uses of biography yet confronts writers ; it has been 
given careful consideration, and there is a growing convic 
tion that instead of lessening the difficulties of a biographer, 
a vast quantity of correspondence only increases them : 

** To correspondence, biography is so much indebted that its 
subtraction would devastate that section of our libraries. Many a 
huge and precious volume would shrivel into the mere husk of what 
it was, if deprived of the letters which gave it both substance and 
vitality. But none the less is it true that the best letters that were 
ever written in fullest series, are a wretched substitute for a real 
biography. A correspondence worth preserving should be preserved 
apart. What the true biographer has to do with it is to use it. The 
more he can extract of its purport; the more he can absorb of its 
spirit; the better will be his book. The more he thrusts it in bodily 
how admirable so ever in itself the more will his book be a thing 
of shreds and patches. To depict worthily and enduringly any 

1 Life of Froude, p. i. 


human life really deserving to be depicted, is a task which was never 
yet achieved without a strain on all the faculty the writer could 
upgather for the occasion. That fact should suffice, one imagines, 
to convince a man that letter-copying can go but a little way. Any 
penman can transcribe letters or without even inking his fingers 
can put them together, scissors-and-paste fashion, much quicker 
than any printer can put them into type." l 

William Winter remarks that " the unjustifiable use of 
private letters, as an element in the biography of deceased 
persons, has been severely and rightly condemned." He 
then tells us that " a judicious and correct use of such 
documents, however, can neither do injustice to the dead 
nor give offence to the living." 2 He thus leaves the prob 
lem where he found it. Every biographer must, in the end, 
arrive at his own solution of just what constitutes " a 
judicious and correct use " of private letters. 

The problem of length is one which biographers of the 
present and the future must face unflinchingly. It is not a 
new problem: it has been before the public since the days 
of Boswell's Johnson and Lockhart's Scott. It is, however, 
more vital than ever before: in this day of details, when 
every possible scrap of information in regard to a man's 
life is fondly treasured, when significant are in danger of 
being buried beneath insignificant facts, we may well take 
pause. " Most modern biographies are too large," the 
words are those of the Rev. Thomas Davidson " they err 
by not selecting merely the significant." 3 In this connexion 
we may well bear in mind, also, another of Mr. Davidson's 
thoughtful statements: " If, as has been said, every man's 
life is worth telling for something that there was in it of 
unique interest, it may be equally true that all the life save 
this particular part was not worth telling at all, and had 

1 Edwards and Hole, A Handbook to the Literature of General 
Biography, pp. 24-5. 
9 Old Friends, p. 206. 
3 Chambers'* Encyclopedia, article " Biography." 


better been left untold." l Leslie Stephen deprecated the 
increasing length of biographies in no uncertain terms: 
" Lives are really becoming overpowering. Old Pusey 
the smallest of human beings has, I think, four monstrous 
volumes, discussing baptismal regeneration and the like. 
It makes one ashamed of the intellect of the race. . . . 
There are two volumes about Dean Stanley, principally 
to show that he acted as personal conductor to the Prince 
of Wales." 2 A realisation of the full import of the problem 
and a proper application of well-merited ridicule may have 
the effect of bringing the biographies of the future within 
reasonable compass. 

Herbert Spencer has called attention to a defect neces 
sarily arising out of omission for purposes of compression: 
" A biographer or autobiographer is obliged to omit from 
his narrative the commonplaces of daily life, and to limit 
himself almost exclusively to salient events, action, and 
traits. The writing and the reading of the bulky volumes 
otherwise required would be alike impossible. But by 
leaving out the humdrum part of life, forming that im 
mensely larger part which it had in common with other 
lives, and by setting forth only the striking things, he pro 
duces the impression that it differed from other lives more 
than it really did. This defect is inevitable." 3 It is true 
that in great degree a biographer " is obliged to omit Irom 
his narrative the commonplaces of daily life " for the 
simple reason that biography is an art and it is likewise 
true that the defect to which Mr. Spencer calls attention 
is less noticeable in the works of those biographers who 
possess the highest artistic ability. 

Turning from problems to tendencies, we may remark 

1 Chambers' s Encyclopedia, article "Biography." 
In letter (Dec. 23, 1904) to Charles Eliot Norton, quoted in 
Maitland's Life of Stephen, p. 420. 
s Autobiography, vol. ii. pp. 326-7. 



first that there is no decline in the amount of biography 
that is being written and published; rather, it seems to be 
on the increase. Life-narrative is still dividing attention 
well with fiction. It is pleasing to note that " a good bio 
graphy has a chance amid the welter of war." x With the 
good, there are, of course, great numbers of worthless 
biographies published. We must simply submit to the 
output, and, as in the past, allow the worthless ones to 
disappear. We may, perhaps, and rightly find fault with 
those biographers who profess merely " to submit materials 
for others to work up " professions which amount to 
confessions of biographical incompetence. These incom 
petents, however, may also be performing a service, and on 
their failures more skilful writers may erect successes. 

Lives of the type of Johnson's Savage and Carlyle's 
Sterling seem to be increasing in number, although in 
quality few can approach these great models. Although 
Ruskin probably went too far in saying that " Lives in 
which the public are interested are scarcely ever worth 
writing," there is no evidence that Carlyle's statement 
that " a true delineation of the smallest man, and his scene 
of pilgrimage through life, is capable of interesting the 
greatest man," is in any sense exaggerated. It may not be 
true that the life of a comparatively insignificant, unknown 
person is of value only when told and interpreted by a 
writer of the deepest insight and greatest artistic ability; 
yet so much depends, in such a case, upon the interpreta 
tion that successful biographies of this type are likely to 
remain the scarcest in the language. Few, indeed, since 
Carlyle's Sterling have risen to the height of Charles 
William Eliot's brief sketch, John Gilley, Maine Farmer 
and Fisherman. 

1 In article " War and Books," by James Milne, literary editor 
of The Daily Chronicle, July 27, 191 5. 


Redivival biography continues to flourish. No pains are 
being spared to reproduce from the dusty records of the 
past some semblance of a man. In certain instances such 
biographies are clearly fulfilling a purpose, as, for example, 
in the case of Laurence Sterne, who waited almost a century 
for a biographer. The success of such attempts can be but 
approximate; it is not possible for such biographies to 
attain to anything like the truth and fidelity of those 
written by contemporaries. " Some have affected to write 
the lives of persons long since dead and gone, and their 
names preserved only by some formal remains, and (ever) 
dubious traditions," wrote Roger North near the middle 
of the eighteenth century. " So," he continues, " painters 
copy from obscure draughts half obliterated, whereof no 
member, much less the entire resemblance, is to be found. 
But fiction, supported upon seeming probability, must 
fill up the blanks and supply all defects. In this manner 
some lives have become redivival, but with partial views, 
tending either to panegyric, the advance of some favourite 
opinions, or factious intrigues; which are fiercely pursued, 
while the life-scraps come out very thin and meagre. And, 
after great length of time, how should it come off better ? " 1 
Yet not for this reason should we dismiss earnest attempts 
to produce such narratives, or deny ourselves such informa 
tion and pleasure as they may give us. There is always a 
place for such a scholarly effort as that recently made by 
Professor Charles Mills Gayley, to fashion for us from most 
difficult materials some semblance of the personality of 
Francis Beaumont. 2 One could scarcely set before oneself a 
more difficult biographical task than to distinguish clearly be 
tween Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher to eliminate 
the " and " which has so long united the " heavenly twins." 

1 Lives of the Norths, vol. iii. pp. 273-4. 
* In his Beaumont the Dramatist. 


The shadowy border -land between biography and 
fiction was never more clearly evident than it is at the 
present. In autobiography, especially, is there danger of 
wandering too far from actual fact. The danger is, perhaps, 
unavoidable : for most of us the past is the land of romance, 
and from our experience in that golden realm all unpleasant 
ness has disappeared, or has been, at least, softened. It is 
difficult to write of past experiences from the point of view 
of the past. Such novels as David Copperfield and the Mill 
on the Floss are full of personal reminiscences, and go to 
show how easy it is for autobiography to be turned in the 
direction of fiction. In his recent book, Father and Son, 
which was crowned in 1913 by the French Academy, 
Edmund Gosse remarks that " at the present hour, when 
fiction takes forms so ingenious and so specious, it is 
perhaps necessary to say that the . . . narrative, in all its 
parts, and so far as the punctilious attention of the writer 
has been able to keep it so, is scrupulously true." The 
volume has much of the charm and much of the method of 
fiction; it was put forth anonymously, and with the names 
of persons altered. The narrative constitutes a biography 
of the father (Philip Henry Gosse) and an autobiography 
of the son (Edmund) from birth to his twenty-first year. 
Thus, however careful Mr. Gosse has been to write what 
is " scrupulously true," the reader feels that over the entire 
narrative there hangs a veil the blue haze of the past 
and that between the story of Father and Son and fiction 
that is fashioned out of fact, there lies but a step. The 
book is wrought out of such stuff " as dreams are made on." 
In William Henry Venable's A Buckeye Boyhood, America 
has produced a somewhat similar veiled autobiography, 
which, though perhaps following Mr. Gosse's work at a 
distance, is yet worthy to be named with it. Read in 
connexion with such matter-of-fact works as the auto- 


biographies of Franklin, Hume, and Gibbon, the tendency 
illustrated by such books as these of Mr. Gosse and 
Mr. Venable will stand forth clearly. 

Mr. Gosse, in the Preface to Father and Son, says that 
the book " is offered ... as a record of educational and 
religious conditions which, having passed away, will never 
return. In this respect, as the diagnosis of a dying Puritan 
ism, it is hoped that the narrative will not be altogether 
without significance." One cannot help wondering, after 
reading these words, whether Mr. Gosse, during the period 
of writing his narrative, ever thought of a certain New 
England novel; for long before, in his Doctor Johns: 
Being a Narrative of Certain Events in the Life of an Orthodox 
Minister of Connecticut, Donald Grant Mitchell also diag 
nosed phases of " a dying Puritanism." There are many 
points of likeness between honest, fervid Doctor Johns and 
Philip Henry Gosse; young Reuben Johns chafed under 
his father's restraints as bitterly as ever Edmund Gosse did. 
Both books show the results somewhat different to be 
sure of an unyielding, but mistaken religious educational 
regime. Although it professes to be simply fiction Mr. 
Mitchell's novel is full of autobiographical touches. These 
two works should be read in conjunction by those who 
wish to study the manner in which fact and fiction blend 
in autobiography the manner in which fact readily and 
easily shades into pure fiction. The one book is the comple 
ment of the other. 

The long-growing tendency to avoid panegyric has been 
steadily strengthened and confirmed; we no longer demand 
idealised biography. We have grown very far away from 
the opinions expressed by William Wordsworth in 1816, 
in his letter to James Gray concerning biographies of Robert 
Burns. Wordsworth would have us shrink from the truth; 
he would have us shield the life of authors from close 


inspection; he would have us accept the works as apart 
from the workers : 

" Your feelings, I trust," writes Wordsworth to Gray, " go along 
with mine; and rising from this individual case [Robert Burns] to 
a general view of the subject, you will probably agree with me in 
opinion that biography, though differing in some essentials from 
works of fiction, is nevertheless, like them, an art an art, the laws 
of which are determined by the imperfections of our nature, and the 
constitution of society. Truth is not here, as in the sciences, and in 
natural philosophy, to be sought without scruple, and promulgated 
for its own sake, upon the mere chance of its being serviceable ; but 
only for obviously justifying purposes, moral or intellectual. 

" Silence is a privilege of the grave, a right of the departed: let 
him, therefore, who infringes that right, by speaking publicly of, 
for, or against, those who cannot speak for themselves, take heed 
that he opens not his mouth without a sufficient sanction. De 
mortuis nil nisi bonum, is a rule in which these sentiments have been 
pushed to an extreme that proves how deeply humanity is interested 
in maintaining them. . . . 

" The general obligation upon which I have insisted, is especially 
binding upon those who undertake the biography of authors. As 
suredly, there is no cause why the lives of that class of men should 
be pried into with the same diligent curiosity, and laid open with 
the same disregard of reserve, which may sometimes be expedient 
in composing the history of men who have borne an active part in 
the world. Such thorough knowledge of the good and bad qualities 
of these latter, as can only be obtained by a scrutiny of their private 
lives, conduces to explain not only their public conduct, but that 
of those with whom they have acted. Nothing of this applies to 
authors, considered merely as authors. Our business is with their 
books to understand and to enjoy them. And, of poets more 
especially, it is true that, if their works be good, they contain 
within themselves all that is necessary to their being comprehended 
and relished. It should seem that the ancients thought in this 
manner; for of the eminent Greek and Roman poets, few and 
scanty memorials were, I believe, ever prepared ; and fewer still are 
preserved. It is delightful to read what, in the happy exercise of 
his own genius, Horace chooses to communicate of himself and his 
friends; but I confess I am not so much a lover of knowledge, 
independent of its quality, as to make it likely that it would much 
rejoice me, were I to hear that records of the Sabine poet and 
his contemporaries, composed upon the Boswellian plan, had been 


unearthed among the ruins of Herculaneura. You will interpret 
what I am writing, liberally. With respect to the light which such 
a discovery might throw upon Roman manners, there would be 
reasons to desire it: but I should dread to disfigure the beautiful 
ideal of the memories of those illustrious persons with incongruous 
features, and to sully the imaginative purity of their classical works 
with gross and trivial recollections. The least weighty objection to 
heterogeneous details, is that they are mainly superfluous, and 
therefore an incumbrance. 

" But you will perhaps accuse me of refining too much; and it is, 
I own, comparatively of little importance, while we are engaged in 
reading the Iliad, the Eneid, the tragedies of Othello and King Lear, 
whether the authors of those poems were good or bad men; whether 
they lived happily or miserably." l 

While we are simply engaged in reading great works it 
may, indeed, be a matter of " comparatively little import 
ance whether the authors were good or bad men; whether 
they lived happily or miserably "; but when we turn to a 
consideration of an author's life in other words, when we 
turn to the biography of an author it is a matter of 
importance that we have the truth. Biography, in short, 
has come to be regarded as " a truthful picture of life, of 
life's tangled skein, good and ill together. Biography 
prejudices its chances of success when it is consciously 
designed as an ethical guide of life." 2 While there is a 
present-day demand for truth, there is at the same time 
no demand that the faults of a man's life should be exag 
gerated : a due sense of proportion is all that is asked for. 1 
Wordsworth speaks of the " poetic character which Burns 
reared on the basis of his actual character," and would 
have us consider this " airy fabric " alone, forgetting that 
branch cannot be separated from root. Wordsworth's 

1 Prose Works of Wordsworth, Edited by William Knight, vol. ii. 
pp. 259-77. 

Lee, Principles of Biography, p. 20. 

1 As a statement of one point of view, Mrs. Oliphant's article on 
" The Ethics of Biography," in the Contemporary Review, July 1883. 
is interesting. 


method, followed to its logical conclusion, would soon 
result in myth; in fact he seemed to prefer that details 
of a poet's life should recede more and more into the 
mythical past. 

" Now, there's Abraham Lincoln," remarked Walt 
Whitman one day to Horace Traubel, and his words may 
well be set down in contrast to those of Wordsworth 
" Now, there's Abraham Lincoln : people get to know his 
traits, his habits of life, some of his characteristics set off 
in the most positive relief; soon all sorts of stories are 
fathered on him some of them true, some of them apo 
cryphal volumes of stories (stories decent and indecent) 
fathered on him: legitimate stories, illegitimate: and so 
Lincoln comes to us more or less falsified. Yet I know that 
the hero is after all greater than any idealisation. Un 
doubtedly just as the man is greater than his portrait 
the landscape than the picture of it the fact than 
anything we can know about the fact. While I accept the 
records I think we know very little of the actual. I often 
reflect, how very different every fellow must have been 
from the fellow we come upon in the myths with the 
surroundings, the incidents, the push and pull of the 
concrete moment, all left out or wrongly set forth. It is 
hard to extract a man's real self any man from such a 
chaotic mass from such historic debris." l Later on, 
Traubel records : " W. said to me to-night again as he has 
before: * Some day you will be writing about me: be sure 
to write about me honest : whatever you do do not prettify 
me: include all the hells and damns.' Adding: ' I have 
hated so much of the biography in literature because it is 
so untrue : look at our national figures how they are spoiled 
by liars: by the people who think they can improve on 
God Almighty's work who put on an extra touch here, 
1 With Walt Whitman in Camden, vol. i. p. 108. 


there, here again, there again, until the real man is no 
longer recognisable." l We may safely conclude that the 
tendency of the present is towards the truth; that here 
after men's faults will be set forth in proper proportion. 
In America, the TV ue Series of biographies bears testimony 
to an honest if not always successful endeavour to write 
biography that is not deformed panegyric or refined myth. 
The Boswell-autobiographical method has become firmly 
established. Its persistence in all great biography of the 
present is evidence that it will dominate the future. It is 
worth while to record that one of the most recent (1915) 
biographies, The Life and Work of Edward Rowland Sill, 
achieves a successful delineation of its subject, perhaps 
because its author, William Belmont Parker, abandoned his 
original design although he had half completed his task 
and, acting upon a hint expressed in Leslie Stephen's 
essay on Autobiography, turned back to make the book, so 
far as possible, an autobiography of Sill. Modern bio 
graphies differ, of course, very much from BoswelPs model; 
almost all of them, as is well-nigh inevitable, contain far 
less of conversation. The present has produced, however, 
one work that approaches Boswell's. Mr. Horace Traubel 
has thus far given in his With Walt Whitman in Camden a 
minute record of Whitman's life from March 28, 1888, until 
January 20, 1889. The 1614 pages of this three-volume 
record contain an amount of conversation equalling, if not 
surpassing, that of Johnson's gathered by Boswell. Mr. 
Traubel has not, unfortunately, written a biography of 
Whitman, he has merely published the record which he 
made day by day. " I do not want to re-shape those years," 
he writes. " I want them left as they were. I keep them 
forever contemporary. I trust in the spontaneity of first 
impressions. ... So I have let Whitman alone. I have 
1 With Walt Whitman in Camden, vol. i. p. 398. 


let him remain the chief figure in his own story. ... I do 
not come to conclusions. I provide that which may lead to 
conclusions. I provoke conclusions." l Thus it is that 
Mr. Traubel has preferred to remain a recorder rather than 
attempted to become a biographer. 

Although problems are being faced and solutions 
attempted, although certain tendencies stand forth clearly, 
it remains true that the end of the experimental stage has 
not yet been reached. " The mode of treatment, especially 
in modern times, is far from uniform. In some cases bio 
graphy approaches the sphere of philosophy; in others, 
that of history; while in the majority it assumes, to a large 
extent, the character of analytic or descriptive criticism. 
To none of these modes, theoretically considered, can there 
be any valid objection; everything depends on the 
judiciousness of the biographer." 2 While the methods may 
not be uniform, the aim of biography has become fixed and 
definite. " The aim of biography is, in general terms, to 
hand down to a future age the history of individual men 
and women, to transmit enduringly their character and 
exploits. Character and exploits are for biographical pur 
poses inseparable. Character which does not translate 
itself into exploit is for the biographer a mere phantasm. 
The exploit may range from mere talk, as in the case of 
Johnson, to empire-building and military conquest, as in 
the case of Julius Caesar or Napoleon. But character and 
exploit jointly constitute biographic personality. Biography 
aims at satisfying the commemorative instinct by exercise 
of its power to transmit personality." * There is practical 
unanimity of belief that the biographer " must keep per 
petually in view . . . the personality and characteristics 
of his subject. If these are buried under a load of digressive 

1 In his foreword, " To Readers." 

* New International Encyclopedia, article " Biography." 

3 Lee, Principles of Biography, pp. 8-9. 


dissertations, his book, however valuable or interesting, 
ceases to be a biography except in name." l 

We have no reason to deplore either the course of the 
best modern biography, or the tendencies of the first 
quarter of the twentieth century. Already we may point 
with pride to such works as Allen's Life of Phillips Brooks, 
Morley's Life of Gladstone, Palmer's Alice Freeman Palmer, 
and Cook's Life of Ruskin. The very length of three of 
these biographies impresses upon us, however, the necessity 
of emphasising the admonition of Sir Sidney Lee : " More 
than ever at the present day is there imperative need 
of winnowing biographic information, of dismissing the 
voluminous chaff while conserving the grain. . . . The 
biographer's labours will hereafter be immensely increased ; 
but they will be labours lost, unless principles of discrimina 
tion be rigorously applied." 2 

1 New International Encyclopedia, article " Biography." 
* Principles of Biography, pp. 41-2. 




To give anything like an adequate account of comparative 
biography would require a large volume, if, indeed, the 
subject could be compassed within that limit. It is no part 
of the task we have in hand to attempt such an ambitious 
survey; but we may, with profit to ourselves, review 
briefly the world contribution before the rise of the form in 
the British Islands; trace the chief influences which have 
affected English biographers ; and glance sufficiently at the 
work accomplished by the leading modern nations to enable 
us to estimate the progress made by English biography, 
and thus form some opinion of its comparative rank. The 
value of the work accomplished by English authors in this 
department of literature will, as a result, become more 
clearly evident. 

Adamnan's Life of St. Columba is the first authentic 
manifestation of the biographical impulse in Britain. Its 
approximate date is 690 A.D. The work of the ninth Abbot 
of lona was preceded by a large body of biographical com 
position, written principally by Greeks and Romans. The 
Hebrews, indeed, produced a great deal that may be classed 
as biography, but the Old Testament narratives are only 
incidentally, not deliberately, biographical. The four 
Gospels constitute biographies of Jesus Christ, and much 
of the remainder of the New Testament, if not intentionally 
so, is yet autobiographical in method. If we cared to press 
the matter still farther back, we might add, what has often 
been remarked, that all ancient mythologies are but lives of 


heroes and gods. The biographical instinct is thus seen to be 
deep-seated and ancient, carrying us back, in truth, to the 
very borderland of history and myth. 

With the pre-historical manifestations of biography we 
need not concern ourselves. The attempt would be, with 
out doubt, interesting, but hardly profitable for the purpose 
of this sketch. We may take up the thread of our investi 
gation from the date of the first specimen of deliberate 
biography, the Memorabilia of Socrates, the work of 
Xenophon (430 ?~355 ?), dating from about 390 B.C. The 
Memorabilia is the tribute of a loyal and appreciative 
disciple to the memory of a great master rather than a 
complete biography. The work lacks artistic unity and 
coherence; it contains little of the history of the steps by 
which Socrates advanced from youth to old age; the 
whole forms a one-sided picture, because Xenophon con 
fines himself chiefly to one period of Socrates' life, and to 
one aspect of that period the aspect of the skilful and 
influential teacher. The moral and practical in the life of 
Socrates were the elements which appealed to Xenophon, 
and as a result we feel that Xenophon gives us less, just as 
we feel that Plato gives us more, than the true Socrates. 
Nevertheless, the Memorabilia is an excellent experiment in 
biography, and not without value to those who, at the pre 
sent day, undertake life-writing. It is the work of one who 
knew his subject well; it contains much conversation, and 
without doubt gives us a clear notion of Socrates' method 
of teaching; it strikes a wise balance between undue praise 
on the one hand and uncharitable blame on the other; if 
primarily a tribute, it is fundamentally sane in its attitude. 
We may still study, with benefit to ourselves, this first 
authentic and deliberate specimen of biography. 

The Greeks furnish us not only the first biography, but 
also, in Plutarch (46-120 A.D.), the greatest among ancient 


biographers. Plutarch's Parallel Lives are so well known, 
and have exerted so great an influence upon history, bio 
graphy, and literature, that no further comment upon them 
is here necessary. The tale of Greek biographers does not, 
however, close with Plutarch. To Diogenes Laertius 
(second century) we owe the Lives of Philosophers, which, 
although thrown together without orderly arrangement, 
and on the whole of doubtful critical value, yet preserve 
information in regard to the private life-details of ancient 
philosophers, anecdotes of their lives, and quotations from 
lost works, otherwise unknown to us. In short, the work of 
Diogenes Laertius is our chief source for the history of 
Greek philosophy, and upon it all modern histories of the 
subject are based. Philostratus (c. 170-245) has given us 
the Lives of the Sophists, a series of " picturesque impres 
sions " of the leaders among the so-called sophistical philo 
sophers; and the In Honour of Apollonius of Tyana, a 
work biographical in method, but pronounced by critics to 
be " a philosophical and historical romance." * Olympio- 
dorus of Alexandria (6th century) wrote in Greek a Life of 
Plato. These are the chief manifestations of the form: 
from them one may gain a clear notion of the theory and 
the practice of biography as set forth by the Greeks. 

Among the Romans, the Illustrious Men of Cornelius 
Nepos (c. 99-24 B.C.) stands first in point of time. Tacitus 
(c. 55-120 A.D.) made an enduring contribution to separate 
biography in the Life of Agricola, published in 97 or 98 A.D. 
It was the purpose of Tacitus, in this work, to do honour to 
the memory of his father-in-law; he did not, however, 
allow his affection to mislead him, but wrote in a lofty tone 
of dignified restraint. The work may well be studied by 

1 See the brilliant study and translation, Philostratus : In Honour 
of Apollonius of Tyana, by Professor J. S. Phillimore, University 
of Glasgow. Oxford, 1912. 


biographers as an example of " noblest eloquence " com 
bined with " the most perfect good taste." Suetonius 
(second century) is the Roman Plutarch. His most valu 
able work is the Lives of the Twelve Caesars, a collection 
replete with information in regard to the personal lives of 
the Roman emperors, dealing far more with private details 
of their lives than with the history of their reigns. In a 
much slighter way, Suetonius wrote also the Lives of 
Eminent Grammarians, Rhetoricians, and Poets. 

Classical biography was chiefly collective; that is, the 
Greek and Roman biographers produced collections of lives 
grouped together either because the units exhibited some 
common characteristic, or because the group subserved a 
distinctive purpose in the author's plan. Thus Suetonius 
grouped together as one work the Lives of the Caesars, just 
as he did the Lives of Grammarians, Rhetoricians, and Poets, 
respectively; Plutarch wrote such lives as would subserve 
his purpose of parallel treatment; Diogenes Laertius wrote 
the Lives of Philosophers in such a way as to develop, after 
his fashion, the history of philosophy, while Philostratus 
dealt with such as he could make subserve his plan of 
exhibiting what he termed the sophistic movement. Of 
separate biography, such as Xenophon's Memorabilia or 
Tacitus' Life of Agricola, there was little. 

The ancients, indeed, scarcely looked upon biography 
as a separate and distinctive form of literature; for them, 
it served rather as a means of historical and ethical in 
struction. We are not surprised, therefore, to find that a 
prevailing characteristic of classical biography was its 
moral purpose. " Moral good," writes Plutarch in his 
account of Pericles, " is a practical stimulus; it is no sooner 
seen, than it inspires an impulse to practice; and influences 
the mind and character not by a mere imitation which we 
look at, but by the statement of the fact creates a moral 


purpose which we form. And so we have thought fit to spend 
our time and pains in writing the lives of famous persons." l 
The example set by Plutarch was far-reaching. It is only in 
the present that we find anything like concerted insistence 
on the fact that " true biography is no handmaid of 
ethical instruction " ; that any assistance rendered by 
biography to ethical interests (as well as to historical and 
scientific interests) should be accidental; that biography 
" rules a domain of its own"; that it is, in short, 
" autonomous." 2 

We should never lose sight of the fact that it was not, 
however, from classical models that biography in Britain 
received its impulse. As we have shown in Chapter I., the 
first important influence on English biography was that 
exerted during the Latin period by the Scriptures and the 
writings of the Church Fathers. It seems clear, in brief, 
that those early attempts at life-recording were directly 
inspired by the literature of the Christian Church. A point 
worthy of careful notice in this connexion is the little 
influence of the Old Testament biographies with their 
commingling of good and bad in the chequered web of the 
lives they relate; with their slight tendency to panegyric. 
Moses, Saul, David these men are not represented in the 
Old Testament narratives as impossible embodiments of 
unapproachable virtue and divinity: the blackest spots 
in their lives are revealed to us. Not thus did early British 
biographers write of their subjects; they chose rather to 
model their works after the Gospel narratives. The power 
of a life the life of Jesus Christ had entered into the 
world, and Christians, especially Churchmen, whose pro 
fessional duty it was to point the way, were attempting to 
mould their lives after the Great Model. The Christian 

1 Lives, vol. i. p. 227, Dent's " Everyman's Library." 

2 Lee, The Principles of Biography, p. 18. 


world of the period was in earnest, desperately in earnest, 
and strove with all the means known to ascetic discipline 
to " keep the body under " and to achieve holiness in life. 
Small wonder is it that the miraculous elements in both 
Old and New Testaments exerted a predominating influ 
ence; small wonder is it that, in their earnestness, the early 
Britons overemphasised the miraculous, exaggerated the 
holiness of their subjects, and wrote almost impossible 
panegyrics: they were but attempting to make of their 
subjects of biography, the embodiments of the ideal holy 
life which they were keeping before themselves, and which 
they considered it their duty to keep before the world. 
The example of such writers as St. Athanasius, in his Life 
of St. Anthony, could only confirm the tendencies of British 
Churchmen. To these early British biographers, the models 
set by pagan writers, even had their works been known, 
would have made little appeal. From the time of Adamnan, 
then, until after Izaak Walton had made his contribution 
to the form, classical biography exerted practically no 
influence in Britain. The connecting link between classical 
and English biography, as we have already shown, was 

Thus, although English biography began eleven centuries 
later than the Memorabilia, the first of the classical fore 
runners; and although more than eight centuries elapsed 
after the work of Adamnan before the classical proto 
types chiefly through Plutarch exerted any appreciable 
influence on the work of English biographers, we find 
little to regret in this seemingly slow progress. Looked 
upon chiefly as history; interested mostly in teaching 
morality, in " celebrating definite moral qualities," bio 
graphy was not concerned primarily with a delineation 
of " individual characteristics." As Edmund Gosse 
points out, " the true conception of biography as the 



faithful portrait of a soul in its adventures through life, is 
very modern. We may question whether it existed, save 
in rare and accidental instances, until the seventeenth 
century. ... It was very difficult to teach the world that, 
whatever biography is, it is not an opportunity for pane 
gyric or invective, and the lack of this perception destroys 
our faith in most of the records of personal life in ancient 
and mediaeval times. It is impossible to avoid suspecting 
that Suetonius loaded his canvas with black in order to 
excite hatred against the Roman emperors ; it is still more 
difficult to accept more than one page in three of the stories 
of professional hagiographers. As long as it was a pious 
merit to deform the truth, biography could not hope to 
flourish. It appears to have originally exerted itself when 
the primitive instinct of sympathy began to have free play, 
that is to say, not much or often before the seventeenth 
century. Moreover, the peculiar curiosity which legitimate 
biography satisfies is essentially a modern thing; and pre 
supposes an observation of life not unduly clouded by 
moral passion or prejudice." 1 In the light of these state 
ments, we thus see that English biography had not long to 
wait before the dawn of the true conception of the type. 

A statement made by Edward Phillips at the beginning 
of his Life of Milton, 2 in addition to giving us a contem 
porary estimate of English biography, also summarises 
for us the chief foreign influences operative down to 1694. 
Among those of the ancients considered by the English as 
" the most eminent in this way of history " he names 
Plutarch, Diogenes Laertius, and Cornelius Nepos. Of 
" the moderns," he mentions " Machiavel, a noble Floren 
tine, who elegantly wrote the Life ofCastruchio Castracano, 
Lord of Luca ; Gassendus of France; and Thuanus." 

1 Encyclopedia Britannica, article " Biography." 
8 Prefixed to Milton's Letters of State. 


His list of English biographers is limited to Sir Fulke 
Greville; "Mr. Thomas Stanly l of Cumberlo Green, 
who made a most elaborate improvement on Laertius"; 
and Izaak Walton. 

Phillips was right in giving Plutarch the foremost place, 
for it was the work of the Greek which formed the connect 
ing link between classical and English biography. The 
Parallel Lives were translated into Italian by Alexander 
Jaconello of Riete in 1480, and into Spanish by Alfonso de 
Palencia in 1491 ; but their influence was brought to bear 
upon English writers chiefly through the admirable French 
translation published by Jacques Amyot in 1565. Happily 
for the work of Plutarch it found in Amyot a translator 
who possessed the spirit of the Greek biographer united 
with a gift of language that made the French version more 
than a bald translation. Happily, also, the translation was 
made when French was rising to a commanding position in 
world literature. It was due in no small measure to this 
French translation that Plutarch came to be recognised as 
a classic " naturalised in many countries." It may be going 
somewhat too far to assert that but for Amyot we should 
probably have had no North's Plutarch ; but it was Amyot's 
version which Thomas North translated into English in 
1579, when the work of the Greek first became a living 
influence in English literature. The lateness of its appear 
ance in an English version indicates, in a way, the measure 
of its influence upon English-speaking peoples. It was the 
Rev. Edward Edwards who pointed out that if we speak 
of Englishmen at large, we must admit that Plutarch has 
never taken " that hold of the public mind which he took 
in Italy, and still more conspicuously in France. With us, 
the expressive phrase, * One of the men of Plutarch,' 

1 Stanly was one of two to whom Phillips addressed the Preface 
of the Theatrum Poetarum. 


has never passed into a proverb, as it has with our 
neighbours." 1 

Nevertheless, Plutarch, once made accessible to the 
English, was carefully read and his example heeded. From 
Izaak Walton to James Boswell we may trace in one way or 
another the influence of the Greek. Moreover, we must 
always bear in mind the fact that Boswell appealed to the 
authority of Plutarch, as to " the prince of ancient bio 
graphers," and then proceeded to write his Life of Johnson 
in such fashion as to make it bear the same resemblance to 
the dicta of Plutarch in regard to biography that a full 
blown rose bears to the bud. We should likewise always 
bear in mind the debt which Shakespeare, through North's 
translation, owes to Plutarch. Mr. Edwards, again, in an 
interesting way has pointed out that " the mere literary 
affiliation . . . falls short of the main truth. Shakespeare 
gives sublimity to passages which he adopts (almost to the 
letter) by a faculty which was his alone. But what he makes 
to blaze was already in a glow. Vast as is the disparity of 
intellect, there is unity of spirit between the Greek bio 
grapher and the English poet. Had Shakespeare " and 
here we have the main point for which we quote " Had 
Shakespeare set himself to write lives, he would have gone 
about the task, one feels sure, with impressions, as to its 
nature and aims, very like those which Plutarch has 
expressed in two famous passages of the Life of Alexander 
and of the Life of Nicias. Shakespeare's regard for the 
* dignity of history ' would have been much on a par with 
Plutarch's." 2 

Although, as we have noticed, most ancient biographical 
works are collective, none of them belongs to the depart 
ment of general biography; nor do we find among them 

1 A Handbook to the Literature of General Biography, p. 41 . 

2 Ibid. pp. 41-2. 


anything resembling a dictionary of biography. 1 The cele 
brated Lexicon wrought out by the industry of the Greek 
lexicographer Suidas (c. loth century) is an uncritical 
collection of grammatical, geographical, and biographical 
information arranged in alphabetical order, bearing some 
little resemblance to an historical dictionary. Its compiler 
refers to a source of the biographical notices, the Onomato- 
logion or Pinax of Hesychius of Miletus, and we know that 
the excerpts of Constantine Porphyrogenitus, the chronicle 
of Georgius Monachus, the biographies of Diogenes Laer- 
tius, and the works of Athanaeus and Philostratus were 
also drawn upon. We may feel sure, however, that no 
dictionary of biography, in the true sense, existed among 
the ancients. 

The work which pointed the way for makers of biographi 
cal dictionaries may well have been the small volume 
compiled by Hermannus Torrentinus under the title Eluci- 
darius Carminum et Historiarum : vel Vocabularius Poetic us, 
continens Historias, Provincias, Urbes, Insulas, Fluvios, et 
Montes Illustres, and printed at Hagenaw, in November 
1514. In this little volume, among the alphabetical lists of 
provinces, cities, islands, rivers, and mountains, we find 
also the names of gods and illustrious men. The purpose 
of the compiler was to provide a companion volume for the 
readers of the classic poets. The descriptions of places are, 
for the most part, brief; a number of the biographical 
notices, however, are more extended, those of Medea, 
Oedipus, Ulysses, and Scylla occupying twenty-eight, 
twenty-nine, thirty, and thirty-three lines, respectively. 
That the work fulfilled a need is evidenced by the fact that 
twenty-four editions appeared before 1537. Its influence 

1 R. C. Christie's suggestive article on " Biographical Dictionaries " 
in the Quarterly Review (January 1884) is, unfortunately, marred 
by many errors of fact. 


on the French was exerted through the brothers, Robert 
and Charles Estienne, who published a number of reprints, 
enlargements, and revisions, which culminated in 1553 in 
Charles' Latin Dictionarium Historicum, Geographicum, 
ac Poeticum, the first French encyclopaedia. The Die- 
tionarium formed the basis of a French work, Juigne- 
Broissiniere's Dictionnaire Theologique, Historique, Poetique, 
et Cosmographique, published either in 1627 (according to 
the Biographic Universelle), or in 1644 (according to the 
Nouvelle Biographie Generate). Poor as the work seems 
when judged by present-day standards, it was of value in 
its time, and, as the only historical and biographical 
dictionary in the French language, it passed through at 
least ten editions within the next thirty years. Estienne 
must have received immense aid, however, from another 
and far greater work than that of Torrentinus. We refer 
to the Bibliotheca Universalis of Konrad Gesner (1516-65), 
in which the author made the attempt to produce a cata 
logue of " all writers living or dead, ancient or modern, 
learned or unlearned, published or in manuscript, but 
chiefly of those in the Latin, Greek, and Hebrew languages." 
The volume was published at Zurich (Tigurinus) in Septem 
ber 1545, in Latin, 1 and formed the model of all succeeding 
works of this biographical and bibliographical nature. 
Gesner made the attempt to give a summary of the contents, 
a critical estimate, and a specimen of the style of such 
writers as he could collect. A similar ambitious effort was 
made by Anton du Verdi er de Vauprivas (1544-1600), in 
his Prosopographia Universalis (Lyons, 1573). 

From the days of Estienne's Historical Dictionary, the 
French have excelled in general collections of lives pub- 

1 Not in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, as a number of English writers 
erroneously state: the title page r ,ords that the work is " locu- 
pletissimus in tribus linguis, Latina, G^eca, et Hebraica." 


lished along with other historical matter. In 1674 appeared 
Louis Moreri's Grand Dictionnaire Historique, a work which 
so completely surpassed all its predecessors that for a 
century it set the standard. Pierre Bayle's Dictionnaire 
Historique et Critique (1697), Jacques George de Chauf epic's 
Nouveau Dictionnaire (1750), and Prosper Marchand's 
Dictionnaire Historique (1758), were but supplements to the 
work of Moreri. In 1752 the Abbe L'Advocat put forth his 
Dictionnaire Historique portatif des Grands Hommes, the 
first work to merit the name of a general biographical 
dictionary. During the nineteenth century the French 
completed their great contribution to general biography 
with their deservedly famous Biographie Universelle, 
Ancienne et Moderne (1843-65) and Nouvelle Biographie 
Generate (1852-66). 

The British were very early in the work of making 
biographical and bibliographical collections somewhat after 
the fashion of the works we have just been considering. 
John Boston, as early as the first part of the fifteenth 
century, in his well-meaning but bandied-about Catalogus 
Scriptorum Ecclesiae gave a list of the principal manu 
scripts contained in the English universities and monas 
teries; and, although his work never came to print in its 
entirety, his attempt preceded even that of Hermannus 
Torrentinus. John Bale's Illustrium Majoris Britannia* 
Scriptorum Summarium was the first of such British works 
to appear in print, in 1548. It was followed by John Pits' 
De Illustribus Britanniae Scriptoribus, printed in 1619. 
The work of John Leland, which preceded that of both 
Bale and Pits, did not reach publication until 1709. Although 
the English were thus early in their attempts, they confined 
themselves chiefly to collecting notices of their own writers, 
and neglected the compilation of a dictionary of general 
biography. In fact, while stimulated by such great efforts 


as that made by the Bollandists in the preparation of the 
A eta Sanctorum (1653), and by the works of the French 
the Historical Dictionary of Charles Estienne (of which 
an edition revised and enlarged by Nicholas Lloyd was 
published in Latin at Oxford in 1670) and the Grand 
Dictionnaire of Moreri and its supplements the English 
have completed no great dictionary devoted exclusively to 
general biography. 

The attempt to produce a great English general bio 
graphical dictionary has indeed been made, and that at a 
date preceding the publication of the first volume of the 
Biographie Universelle. This work, under the editorship of 
George Long, was undertaken by The Society for the 
Diffusion of Universal Knowledge, and progressed (18424) 
through the letter A in four volumes, when, owing to lack 
of adequate support, it was discontinued. The undertaking 
was without doubt too ambitious. It has been estimated 
that had it been completed on the scale on which it was 
begun, it would have extended to one hundred and fifty 
volumes equal in size to the four which were published. It 
possessed many merits, however, and in such points as the 
exact quotation of authorities, the careful orthography of 
proper names, and the dated bibliographical lists appended 
to the accounts of literary men, went far to aid the work 
of those who later produced the Dictionary of National 
Biography. We may doubt whether a general biographical 
dictionary will ever be produced in English on the scale 
of that undertaken by Mr. Long and his associates. Less 
need for such a work is felt since the appearance of Dr. 
William Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography 
(1849), and Smith and Wace's Dictionary of Christian 
Biography (1877-87), works which demonstrate that 
English scholarship may rank with that of any other 


The nineteenth century witnessed the rise of dictionaries 
devoted to national biography, a department in which the 
English were slow in making a start. Already the Swedish 
dictionary (Biografiskt Lexicon ofver Namnkunnige Svenska 
Man) had been projected in 1835; l ^ e Dutch (Biograph- 
ische Woordenboek der Nederlanderi) in 1852; the Austrian 
(Biogr aphis cbes Lexicon des Kaiserthums Oesterreich) in 
1856; the Belgian (Biogr aphie Rationale de Belgique) in 
1866; and the German (Allgemeine Deutsche Biogr aphie) 
in 1875, before the English took up the work of the Die- 
tionary of National Biography in 1885. The delay, it may 
be said, has been of advantage, in that the English have 
been able to profit by the failures and successes of those 
who preceded them in such labours. Leslie Stephen who 
began the great Dictionary, and Sir Sidney Lee who 
brought it to completion, made a most thorough study of 
the principles underlying the production of national 
biography; Mr. Lee, in particular, has succeeded in formu 
lating these principles, and we may now read the story of 
the methods which have combined to make the Dictionary 
of National Biography the best work of its class produced 
in any language. 1 

Most of the early biography of the other European 
countries was collective. In Spain, Ferndn Perez de 
Guzman (1378-1460), sometimes referred to as "the 
Plutarch of Spain," wrote between 1430 and 1454 his 
Generacionesy Semblanzas, a work which comprises sketches, 
rather than connected narratives, of thirty-four of the 
principal persons of his time. In Italy, the fifteenth century 

1 See Leslie Stephen's " National Biography " in Studies of a 
Biographer, vol. i.; Lee's "National Biography" in the Cornhill 
Magazine, March 1896, Principles of Biography, and " At a Jour 
ney's End " in the Nineteenth Century and After (December 1912)- 
together with the prefaces, etc., of the Dictionary of National 


witnessed the rise of biography. During this century 
Filippo Villani (d. after 1404), Vespasiano da Bistrici 
(1421-98), and Paolo Giovio (1483-1552), wrought their 
collections; while in the sixteenth century Giorgio Vasari 
(1512-74) produced his admirable Lives of the Artists. 
German biography has little to show before the latter part 
of the eighteenth century. In more recent times, the output 
of separate biography in France, Spain, Italy, and Ger- 
many has not kept pace in quantity or quality with that 
of the English language. Spain has produced no work of 
international importance; Italy has produced much 
biography in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, but 
nothing of the highest excellence; Germany has plodded 
patiently, but with no commensurate or brilliant success. 
Russia is only beginning to produce biography: the bio 
graphies of her greatest poets, Pushkin (1799-1837) and 
Lermontov (1811-41) are yet virtually unwritten, as are 
those of her greatest prose writers. Biryukov's Life of 
Tolstoi perhaps represents the highest point reached thus 
far by Russian biography. M. Rene Valery-Radot's Life 
of Pasteur is typical of the most recent French lives. 

In his brief essay on Biography ', written in 1832, Carlyle 
somewhat despondently wrote : " May it not seem lament 
able that so few genuinely good biographies have yet 
accumulated in literature; that in the whole world, one 
cannot find, going strictly to work, above some dozen, or 
baker's dozen, and these chiefly of very ancient date? 
Lamentable. . . . Another question might be asked: How 
comes it that in England we have simply one good biography, 
this Boswell's Johnson ; and of good, indifferent, or even 
bad attempts at biography, fewer than any civilised 
people? Consider the French and Germans, with their 
Moreris, Bayles, Jordenses, Jochers, their innumerable 
Memoires, and Schilderungen, and Biographies Univer- 


stiles ; not to speak of Rousseaus, Goethes, Schubarts, 
Jung-Stillings: and then contrast with these our poor 
Birches, and Kippises, and Pecks; the whole breed of whom, 
moreover, is now extinct! " This wail reminds us some 
what of the cry that went up at the death of Wordsworth, 
the cry which proclaimed that Poetry was dead, that the 
Throne of Poetry was vacant, and perhaps permanently 
vacant. And the results in both cases have been much the 
same. Within four years after Carlyle had penned these 
words, Lockhart had commenced his Life of Scott ; within 
twenty years, Carlyle himself has written the Life of 
Sterling. Within fifty years, the output of English bio 
graphy, in both quantity and quality, was unexcelled. 
There was no longer need of calling up the names of Tom 
Birch, Andrew Kippis, and Francis Peck. Not only was 
their breed extinct, it had been succeeded by a race of 
giants. During the last half of the nineteenth century, no 
language surpassed the English in the importance and 
number of biographies written and published. 

Already self-commemoration was an old and firmly- 
established custom in the world when autobiography in its 
first simple form appeared in the British Islands, as 
exemplified by the brief sketch, already mentioned, which 
the Venerable Bede attached to the Ecclesiastical History 
of England in 731 A.D. It is doubtless true that the simplest 
form of autobiography, the mere record of personal prowess 
and personal deeds, such as we find in Egyptian and 
Assyrian inscriptions, is older than the simplest form of 
biography. The ego in man seems to have developed earlier 
than man's appreciation of the personal worth of his 
fellows. Although, beyond doubt, the first manifestation 
of self-record long since perished, we may be sure that 


centuries before anything that can be called European 
civilisation appeared the habit of self-commemoration 
was old, just as the form and habit of biography was old 
long before the time of Plutarch. Tacitus, in the intro 
ductory paragraphs of his Life of Agricola, not only refers 
to biography as " an ancient practice," but also affirms 
what convinces us that the element of apology so prominent 
in autobiography is likewise of ancient origin; namely, 
that " in days gone by ... many thought that to write 
their own lives showed the confidence of integrity, rather 
than presumption," and assures us that " no one doubted 
the honesty or questioned the motives " of Rutilius and 
Scaurus in writing their autobiographies. Little as we 
know definitely, and few as are the authentic autobiographi 
cal documents remaining to us from the earliest historical 
ages, we yet know enough to convince us of the undoubted 
antiquity of self-commemoration, and of the comparative 
lateness of its appearance in Britain. 

At the outset of an historical survey, we must bear in 
mind that autobiography exists in two forms: the one a 
record of mere objective events; the other a record of 
subjective processes a history of the development of the 
inner life, what we may call autobiography par excellence. 
The objective is the primitive form, the form which takes 
us back to the borderland of history, and which persists 
even down to the present time. The subjective form is 
comparatively modern, its first appearance dating well 
within the earliest centuries of the Christian era. Late as 
the subjective form was in appearing, it has surpassed the 
older form in both completeness of development and 
intrinsic worth. We are agreed to-day that autobiography 
should be something more than mere impersonal objective 
narrative of domestic or political events. We are insisting 
more and more that it should be self-study, a history of the 


development of the soul; we are coming to recognise that 
the autobiography which is worth the name is serious and 
truthful self-study. To such serious and truthful docu 
ments psychologists are beginning to turn for material, 
We may therefore dismiss the great majority of early, 
objective self-records as only rude attempts, first sketches, 
feelings after the proper form. We are safe in concluding 
that the history of autobiography begins with the Christian 
era. " We cannot insist too strongly that autobiography 
as we know it, and in its full sense, does not exist before 
Christ. . . . The great religious reformers before Christ 
contain detached passages and religious moods of great 
subjectivity, as all religious leaders must. But never, in 
any consecutive manner, does Plato, or Confucius, or 
Buddha, or any leader or reformer before Jesus Christ 
suggest that what a man is, is more important than what 
he does ; or that duty obliges him to study himself with 
care and candour, that by such study he may assist other 
blind creatures like himself." l 

This origin of really important autobiography well 
within authentic historical limits makes the history of its 
development not difficult to trace. The continuity of 
influence exerted by the works of autobiographers of the 
first rank is practically unbroken. " One man writes of 
himself because another writes; personal impressions are 
repeated in a practically unbroken chain. Few, if any, 
important autobiographies have been lost, and this is, in 
itself, an illuminating circumstance. With the exception 
of Sulla's Commentaries, whose effect upon Caesar was noted 
by his contemporaries, the capital autobiography has 
survived, and preserved its fresh effect on later minds, 
more than any other type of literary work." a 

The history of autobiography carries us back directly to 
1 Burr, The Autobiography, pp. 31-3. * Ibid. p. 44. 


three great names, Caesar, Augustine, and Jerome Cardan. 
The powerful influence exerted by the self-records of these 
men has left its impress upon all succeeding autobiographi 
cal documents. Caesar's Commentaries belongs, of course, 
to the objective form; in truth, at the present time the 
third-person narrative of the Roman would scarcely be 
classed as autobiography. Whatever we may think of the 
Commentaries to-day, however, we must admit, after due 
investigation, that this work has " inspired later auto 
biography to an extent almost incalculable." The influence 
of Caesar's work is easily and directly traceable. Mrs. Burr 
quotes the statement of Monluc, " Ce grand capitaine, qui 
tst Cesar, rrfen montre le chemin" and then affirms that 
Monluc is " but one of hundreds to whom the Roman has 
shown the road," and that " it is hard to find a single 
objective historical record for eight hundred years which 
does not avow that its inspiration came from Caesar's 
Commentaries." 1 

We have already remarked that the history of subjective 
autobiography begins with the Christian era. It is in 
keeping with the progress of human thought that, of the 
two forms in which such subjective narrative manifests 
itself the religious and the scientific the religious came 
first. In the Confessions of Augustine, Bishop of Hippo 
(354-430 A.D.), we have the beginning of complex, sub 
jective autobiography actuated by religious emotion. We 
may dismiss the criticism which refers to it as only " a 
praise and confession of God's unmerited goodness." It 
is this, to be sure; but it is far more. In the history of 
confession it remains a most important document, intro 
ducing as it did " to the confession proper the autobio 
graphical intention and idea." The narrative follows a 

1 Burr, The Autobiography, pp. 74-5. See also the reference to 
Caesar in Boswell's Life of Johnson, Hill's edition, vol. iii. p. 195. 


definitely formulated plan of self-study: it includes the 
complete history of the subject, the sources of his sin, and 
the progress of his conversion-process. " Augustine not 
only taught this self-study to be full and sincere, but 
furnished an imperishable classic by way of example, and 
one which was to be followed by the most enthusiastic 
imitation. Through him, the religious record became the 
natural means of expression for the emotions of the middle 
ages." l Sainte-Beuve has pointed out the fact that down 
to modern times, Augustine has exerted an influence ,over 
all types of the creative religious mind; that he was, in fact, 
" a great empire divided among distinguished heirs." * 
When Petrarch, " the first of modern men," on the top of 
Mont Ventoux opened his copy of the Confessions and 
fixed his eyes upon those words in which Augustine says 
that " men wonder at the heights of the mountains, and the 
mighty waves of the sea, and the wide sweep of rivers, and 
the circuit of the ocean, and the revolution of stars, but 
themselves they consider not," he awoke to the fact " that 
nothing is wonderful but the soul; " and forthwith began 
" to turn his inward eye upon himself." In that passage 
of one of his familiar letters 3 where Petrarch describes this 
experience, Mrs. Burr says, " the world may almost be said 
to come of age; the mind of man, if we permit Petrarch 
to personify it for us, attains maturity." 4 Of such monu- 

1 Burr, Religious Confessions and Confessants, pp. 42-3. See also 
the references to Augustine in Mrs. Burr's The Autobiography; in 
Windelband's Geschichte der Philosophic ; and C. A. Sainte-Beuve's 

1 " Saint Augustin est comme ces grands empires qui ne se trans- 
mettent a des heritiers m6me illustres qu'en se divivant. M. de 
Saint-Cyran, Bossuet et Fenelon (on y joindrait aussi sous de 
certains aspects Malebranche) peuvent 6tre dits, au dix-septieme 
siecle, d'admirables demembrements de saint Augustin." Sainte 
Beuve, Port-Royal, vol. i. p. 421. 

* Robinson and Rolfe, Francesco Petrarcha, pp. 309-18. 

4 Religious Confessions and Confessants, p. 38. 


mental significance in the history of autobiography is the 
work of Augustine. 

The second or scientific type of subjective autobio 
graphy did not appear until the sixteenth century, when, 
in 1575, Jerome Cardan wrote his De Vita Propria Liber. 
From the psychological point of view this book is note 
worthy, marking as it does the beginning of a new era in 
thought. Mrs. Burr points out to us that during the 1145 
years lying between the death of Augustine in 430, and 
1575, " there is absolutely no trace of scientific self-study," 
and reminds us that this fact should help us to realise 
*' what a wholly fresh idea came to the Italian physician 
when he set about examining himself as if he were a new 
species of animal which he never expected to see again.' ' 
She thus feels justified in referring to the book as one " of 
perfect originality," a work that " contains psychological 
data which have awaited the birth and development of a 
special branch of science for their elucidation," and further 
asserts that " it is not too much to say that by reason of 
his invention of the principle of gathering and collecting 
personal data, Jerome Cardan stands in the same relation 
to the new psychology as Galileo to astronomy. . . . He 
is among the first manifestations of what we term the 
scientific spirit; he is in the forefront of that new order 
which was to change the face of the universe." l 

From this psychological or subjective point of view 
English autobiography was slow of development. Both 
Italy and France had contributed largely to the literature 
of autobiography long before anything of great value had 
appeared in English. At the time of Richard Vennar, whose 
Apology is an insignificant bit of merely objective record, 
Cardan and Benvenuto Cellini were writing in Italy; 
Monluc, Marguerite de Valois, and the Chroniclers were 
1 The Autobiography, pp. 82-5. 


flourishing in France. Important subjective autobiography 
in English dates from comparatively modern times. True 
to the general world-trend of the form, the work of George 
Fox (1624-91), the " first capital English self-delineator," 
was the result of religious emotion. Lord Herbert of Cher- 
bury, whose self-narrative may be mentioned along with 
that of Fox, was likewise interested in religious questions, 
asserting strangely enough that he published his De Vcritatt, 
a work hostile to Christianity, in obedience to a voice from 
heaven which spoke to him in broad daylight. The sub 
jective autobiography developed but slowly, however; 
from Fox to Gibbon there is, in English literature, a notice 
able deficiency of such documents. The opening chapter of 
Edmund Calamy's An Historical Account of my Own Life 
shows that, during this interval, there was no lack of interest 
in autobiography on the part of educated Englishmen. In 
this chapter Calamy enumerates and discusses practically 
every important self-narrative written prior to 1731. It 
was not, therefore, that interest was lacking, but rather 
that no vital modern document of general appeal had yet 
been written; no stimulating intellectual movement had 
begun. Such a document, such a movement, came soon 
after Calamy had written the last pages of the Historical 
Account. The Confessions of Jean Jacques Rousseau spoke 
to men just as the storm of the French Revolution was 
gathering. Both book and Revolution stirred England 
profoundly: the soil of men's minds was ready for the seed. 
Without doubt, the strongest direct foreign influence on 
English autobiography was that exerted by Rousseau. 
Self-record as a fashion in England followed as a result 
of the stimulating quality of the Confessions. Soon 
Edward Gibbon, David Hume, and Benjamin Franklin 
were writing the narratives that were in their turn to 
inspire a large body of other such documents. It was 



now that English autobiography began to rise towards its 

So great has been Rousseau's influence that English 
critics have been to a certain extent misled into referring 
to him as the first autobiographer of any consequence. 
" They invariably refer to him as the parent of the whole 
introspective crew," writes Mrs. Burr. In this connexion, 
Leslie Stephen's remarks may be quoted as typical: Mr. 
Stephen writes that " the prince of all autobiographers in 
the full sense of the word the man who represents the 
genuine type in its fullest realisation is undoubtedly 
Rousseau . . . the type of all autobiographers; and for 
the obvious reason that no man ever turned himself inside 
out for the inspection of posterity so completely." l 
Rousseau, indeed, ignorantly or with deliberate intention, 
would have us believe that he was an innovator; that he 
was undertaking a task not only without precedent, but 
beyond successful imitation. 2 We know to-day, however, 
that the Confessions only gave fresh stimulus and new life 
to the old movement successively contributed to by Caesar, 
Augustine, and Cardan; that, in particular, the work but 
continued the scientific method begun by Cardan. We know 
that Rousseau scarcely surpasses, if he does surpass, the 
completeness with which Cardan " turned himself inside 
out for the inspection of posterity." We need not for these 
reasons disparage the work which he did; for, notwith 
standing the fact that it was but a manifestation of an old 
movement, it yet furnished the fresh and vital inspiration 
to England, where subjective autobiography had been 
limited to the religious type. It is necessary to bear in 
mind, however, that Rousseau, as a scientific subjective 

1 Hours in a Library, vol. iii. pp. 242-51. 

a " Je forme une entreprise qui n'eut jamais d'exemple, et qui 
n'aura point d'imitateur," are the words which form the opening 
sentence of the Confessions. 


autobiographer, was but a follower in a work in which 
Jerome Cardan was the great pioneer. 

Rousseau's Confessions, therefore, while the immediate 
stimulus to English autobiographers, came merely as a 
continuation of the Cardan method. The influence of 
Cardan must not, however, be thought of as only a second 
ary influence, exerted largely or only through the medium 
of Rousseau; it was also a direct influence, and it is 
written largely upon English as upon all other autobio 
graphy. In Italy, Alfieri and Vico; in France, George 
Sand and Rousseau; in England, Edward Gibbon and 
David Hume, followed the Cardan method. During the 
seventeenth and eighteenth centuries such men as Huet, 
Robert Burton, and Sir Thomas Browne referred to the 
De Vita Propria Liber " as among the great intellectual 
influences of their lives." As the dominance of the Latin 
language declined in England, the great book of Cardan was 
well-nigh forgotten, and ceased to exert its former, direct 
influence. The disciples of the Italian physician, however, 
whether they came under his influence at first hand or at 
second, have been intellectual leaders. It is important for 
us to remember that " the entire group of modern English 
scientists write their lives in the scientific or Cardan 
manner " ; that Herbert Spencer, whose Autobiography 
forms " the culminating achievement of scientific self- 
delineation," gives as his reason for writing substantially 
the same as that given by Cardan. It is a matter of regret 
that there is as yet no English translation of so important 
a work. 1 

The Italians have produced the greatest number of 
important autobiographies of the subjective type. Those 

1 It is to be hoped that Mrs. Burr, who has already done so much 
to point out the value of Cardan's work, will give us an English 
version of the De Vita Propria Liber. 


of Alfieri, Goldoni, Querini, Cardan, and Cellini, together 
with " the marvellously perfect fragments " of Lorenzino de 
Medici, Vico, Chiabrera, Leopardi, Petrarch, and Giusti, 
bear witness to the extent and value of the Italian con 
tribution to documents of high psychological importance. 
Mrs. Burr finds that " the crowning glory " of the Italian 
autobiographer consists in " his ability to distinguish 
between emotion, sentiment, and fact." She calls our 
attention to the fact that a reader is never left in doubt as 
to what Benvenuto Cellini was doing, as apart from what 
he was feeling; that Cardan carefully differentiates his fear, 
affectation, and superstition from his acts, opinions, and 
accomplishment; that in Alfieri's struggle for self-control 
he does not confuse what actually happened, what people 
thought, and what Alfieri thought. " This extraordinary 
combination of high capacity and emotion with a scientific 
method," writes Mrs. Burr in conclusion, " is not to be 
found in other literatures to anything like the same degree." * 

The French have produced autobiographies in far greater 
number and variety than have the Italians. It is to France 
that we must turn for the first self-narrative written by a 
woman, the work of Marguerite de Valois (d. 1549). The 
value of the French contribution lies rather in the literary 
quality of the work produced than in the important 
psychological element; from the beginning the French 
memoire has been " a literary creation rather than a 
scientific document." French minds seem to be adapted to 
self-study; they are " turned inward upon personalities 
theirs is the aspect conscient" In this fact Mrs. Burr finds 
one of the reasons why French autobiography surpasses 
the English. 

While the Germans have produced much autobiography, 
they have given us nothing of worth from the psychological 
1 The Autobiography, pp. 198-9. 


point of view. Mrs. Burr devotes no section of 7 'he Auto 
biography to the German contribution, for the reason that 
she found it " psychologically valueless." In her opinion, 
the chief cause of that partial or defective sincerity which 
leads to a lower value in any autobiography is the senti 
mental point of view; and this " mental habit of confusing 
fact with sentiment " pervades German autobiographies. 
Whether we take up the self-narratives of Richter, Kotzebue, 
Stilling, Lavater, Karoline Bauer, or George Ebers, or those 
of Hans Andersen and Louis Holberg, we find the same 
defect. It is not that the works are uninteresting, or, in 
their way, uninstructive; it is rather that "sentiment, 
the sentimental attitude towards what concerns oneself, 
hangs like a hazy cloud over the narrative, obscuring facts, 
distorting experience." It is when we compare German 
autobiographies with those of Italy and France, that we 
realise the defect to the full. " The emotion which was 
heightened to passion in Italy, and clipped, drilled, for 
malised to a cult of sentiment in France, has spread over 
the German pages a smudge of sentimentality, besmearing, 
hiding, all it touches." l 

Goethe's Dichtung und Wahrheit, as by far the greatest 
of German autobiographies, exemplifies the failure most 
clearly. George Henry Lewes, while admitting that the 
work has charm, remarks that it is " scarcely, if at all, 
the kind which belongs to autobiography "; he pronounces 
it only an " approximation to autobiography," in that it 
lacks " the precise detail, and above all the direct eloquent 
egotism which constitutes the value and the interest of 
such works." In writing Goethe's Life, Lewes says that he 
found the Dichtung und Wahrheit as much of a stumbling- 
block as a stepping-stone. " The main reason for this," 
he asserts, " was the abiding inaccuracy of tone, which, far 
1 Burr. The Autobiography, pp. 207-8. 


more misleading than the many inaccuracies of fact, gives 
to the whole youthful period, as narrated by him, an aspect 
so directly contrary to what is given by contemporary 
evidence, especially his own letters, that an attempt to 
reconcile the contradiction is futile . . . the tone of the 
autobiography, wherein the old man depicts the youth as 
the old man saw him, not as the youth felt and lived. The 
picture of youthful follies and youthful passions come 
softened through the distant avenue of years. The tur 
bulence of a youth of genius is not indeed quite forgotten, 
but it is hinted with stately reserve. Jupiter serenely 
throned upon Olympus forgets that he was once a rebel 
with the Titans." 1 Mrs. Burr has no hesitancy in pro 
nouncing it " the weakest autobiography the world has 
ever had from so strong a hand," and affirms that " enthu 
siasts over it are almost invariably to be found among 
those persons who think a sincere self-revelation per 
nicious and undesirable." 2 

One rises from a comparative study of biography with a 
feeling of admiration for the work accomplished by English 
authors, and with an enduring conviction that the accom 
plishment of the past is but an earnest of the future. The 
writers of biography in English have succeeded better than 
those in any other language in approximating the ideal of 
portraying faithfully the development of a soul. The lan 
guage that has produced Walton's Lives, Johnson's Lives 
of the Poets, Boswell's Life of Johnson, Lockhart's Life of 
Scott, Carlyle's Life of Sterling, Froude's Life of Carlyle, and 
Allen's Life of Phillips Brooks, together with the autobio 
graphies of Franklin, Hume, Gibbon, Mill, Ruskin, Spencer, 

1 Life of Goethe, Preface (Second Edition). 
8 The Autobiography, pp. 68-9. 


and Mrs. Oliphant, may well invite the closest comparative 
inspection. To be sure, English biographers have profited 
by close study of the biography of other nations, especially 
by a study of the classic examples; they are and have been 
glad to be " the heirs of all the ages." It nevertheless 
remains true that whatever they have seen fit to borrow, 
they have amplified and improved. They found the bio 
graphical literature of the world meagre and undeveloped; 
they left it, largely as a result of their own labour and 
example, rich and full. 




MANY definitions of literature have been attempted; but, 
like many another term in common use, the word is not 
only difficult, it is well-nigh impossible, to define. We 
may, however, accept a definition which, if not logically 
perfect, is yet suggestive. Let us say that literature is the 
record of the best thought of a race expressed in such artistic 
form as to inspire and elevate the soul. In this sense, the 
mere record of positive knowledge does not constitute 
literature. There is a mystic borderland where mere 
expression of thought merges into the pure gold of litera 
ture; we recognise the result if we cannot analyse the 
process. We recognise beneath all true literature the 
tremendous, yet subtile and restrained, force of imagina 
tion; we recognise the qualities of beauty and of power; 
beauty that is not mere external ornament, but a part of 
the substance; power that is dependent not on any one 
clement, but upon a union of all. If we think of literature 
as necessarily founded upon imagination, as possessing 
these qualities of beauty of form and expression resulting in 
the power to inspire and elevate humanity, then English 
biography from its earliest dawn must be classed as litera 
ture in ever-increasing measure. 

Its development as a department of letters was greatly 
retarded, of course, by its being considered only a branch of 
history. It was long kept out of its true kingdom. A hand 
maiden to both history and literature, its own peculiar 
virtues were for many years overlooked and neglected. 


Biography did not fully assert its independence until the 
last years of the eighteenth century. It is only in recent 
times that histories of literature have recognised the claims 
of biography to equal rank with other forms of prose. We 
have accepted the poetry and the prose of English authors, 
and have been content to consult biographies for the 
details of their lives; we have looked upon these life- 
records, in the main, as mere storehouses of information. 
We have scarcely deigned to acknowledge that these same 
biographies may also be literature of a high order. 

The literary value of much biography has been marred 
by a too great insistence upon the ethical purpose. It is 
the old defect, a defect as old, at least, as Plutarch. From 
the time of Adamnan to the middle of the nineteenth 
century, and even later, English biography has been made 
to serve an ethical purpose. There has been far too much 
insistence by writers of the form upon the fact that " bio 
graphy conveys useful instruction"; that "it sets before 
us the lives of eminent men, that we may imitate their 
virtues or avoid their vices." l The mental habit of con 
sidering biography in this light has led on the one hand to 
the production of fulsome panegyric; on the other, to 
malicious diatribe. So long as biography is looked upon 
simply as a medium through which to convey " useful 
information " for the sake of ethics, so long is it kept from 
its own true mission. Biography must be allowed to stand 
or fall of itself. Let it but relate faithfully the history of a 
human soul, without any warping of the truth for purposes 
either of panegyric or invective; let it but place before us 
a true narrative, without any straining for effect or any 
drawing of a moral, and it will not fail to speak to us clearly 
and influence us powerfully. " If my portrait of her is 
correct," writes George Herbert Palmer in his Life of Alice 
1 Burdy, Life of Shelton, p. 9, Oxford edition. 


Freeman Palmer, " invigoration will go forth from it and 
disheartened souls be cheered." l It was chiefly because 
Mr. Palmer recognised that such a result was secondary to 
the main purpose that he achieved success. Great poems do 
not labour to draw morals, although they contain morals. 
All works of art are shorn of their power when men attempt 
to reduce them to slavery rather than allow them to assert 
their sovereignty. Works of art cease to be works of art 
when they carry about upon them the chains of any 
tyrannical influence. A work of art must be as free and 
sovereign as the Truth, of which, indeed, it is but a part 
and a manifestation. At last, men are beginning to write 
biographies which are works of art, constructed according 
to truthful principles biographies that speak the truth, 
not glossing over a fault lest morality may be outraged; 
nor enlarging upon a virtue in order to inculcate some 
" useful " lesson ; nor yet magnifying a sin in order to 
make vice hideous. Without question, such biographies 
will be " fruitful in lessons, stimulants to a noble ambition, 
the armouries wherein are gathered the weapons with which 
great battles are fought "; 2 and they will be such because 
they relate truthfully what men have been and what they 
have done; and consequently such narratives will thrill 
the soul of every true man and woman. At the same time, 
such biographies will attain unto the full rank of literature. 
From the beginning, we have said, English biography has 
been worthy, at least in part, to be classed as literature. 
In the long period extending from 690 to the discontinuance 
on the one hand of English biography written in Latin, and, 
on the other, of biography as exemplified by saints' lives, 
we find much that deserves the name of literature. The 
whole of the last chapter of Adamnan's Life of St. Columba 
lingers in our minds like the softened strains of a great 
P. 4. 2 Adapted from Lewes, Life of Goethe, p. i. 


cathedral organ. The Venerable Bede's account of St. 
Cuthbert's death, together with many passages in the Lives 
of the Abbots of the Monasteries of Wearmouth and J arrow, 
strike similar responsive chords in our hearts. In Eddius' 
Life of Wilfrid we catch the power of a strong and turbulent 
soul, undaunted by assemblies or kings; in the Magna 
Vita of St. Hugh we feel the different power of a humbler, 
gentler life. The stories of Anselm and of Becket reveal to 
us the sweet humanity of a consecrated life and the daunt 
less courage of a steadfast purpose. The narratives just 
named are the greater types of a numerous class which con 
tains many passages that cause us to glow with admiration 
for the bravery and devotion of early churchmen; that 
humble our pride as we learn of the humility of the great; 
that come to us out of the past as trumpet calls to duty. 
They are written in a foreign tongue, but not even the garb 
of a Latin idiom none too well expressed can conceal the 
beauty of the thought. These passages stand one sure test of 
great literature the test of translation. From the tomb of 
mediaeval Latinity to a modern English resurrection, their 
beauty arises undimmed. Nor must we forget all the wealth 
of quaintness and humour and whimsicality with which the 
English verse lives abound. 

At first thought, we should scarcely expect to find a 
literary quality in the works of the antiquarians and com 
pilers. We are not accustomed to thinking of alphabetical 
and chronological compilations in terms of literature. Yet 
not even during this prosaic period of biographical develop 
ment could the English genius be entirely eclipsed. It may 
be that the searcher needs to carry with him a strongly 
expectant and unusually sympathetic spirit to find the 
pearls; at any rate, the pearls are there. One is repaid for 
turning through the dusty Latin pages even of Leland, 
Bale, Pits, and their successors. Now and then one chances 


upon such narratives as Thomas Dempster has written of 
himself. The reward is increasingly greater as one turns to 
Anthony Wood and Thomas Fuller. In all of these indus 
trious mortals there are occasional touches of originality; 
flashes of humour; displays of primitive emotion religious 
and race hatred, superstition, blind fear; there are records 
of beliefs now discarded. That strong current of humanity, 
which like a mighty subterranean river runs beneath the 
lives of all men even of antiquarians and compilers, who 
are usually considered the most " dry-as-dust " of mortals 
could not be entirely suppressed. It is most clearly 
evident, in its best form, in the biographical works of 
Thomas Fuller. The Abel Redevivus and the Worthies will 
never disappoint, if one only approaches them in the right 
mood; nor need any of the others which occupy the same 
shelf. There is a place in the great biographical firmament 
even for the least of these names. May we not adapt the 
words of " Master Quarles, father or son," and say that, if 
not as great lights, at least as small ones, the antiquarians 

and compilers may 

" fairly shine 
Within this Skie of lustrious Starres "; 

and that even if their shining is dim and uncertain it is also 
true that 

" Thus, O thus oft Sol's rayes most rare, 
With duskie clouds ecclipsed are? " l 

After the beginning of biography written in the English 
language and before the publication of BoswelPs Johnson 
there were produced a number of works not many to be 
sure which are entitled to rank as almost pure literature; 
that is, they have in themselves a literary quality of such 
value as to make them contributions to literature, as great 
as are the facts which they contain to literary history. 
1 From verses on Berengarius in Abel Redevivus, pp. 7-8. 


Their rank as literature, in short, is well-nigh independent 
of their worth as historical documents. 1 Such narratives as 
Roper's More, Cavendish's Wolsey, the five of Walton's 
Lives, John Evelyn's Life of Margaret Godolphin, Gold 
smith's biographical sketches, and most of Johnson's Lives 
of the Poets, belong to this class. These examples show 
what was true of English biography as literature until 
Boswell's day, that the literary quality was due rather to 
the writer of the narrative than to the kind of materials 
with which he worked. We can call no one of the works 
just enumerated an authoritative, complete biography 
wrought from full and exhaustive materials materials of 
great literary excellence upon which the author leaned 
heavily. Most of them belong to the incomplete sketch 
type. All of them, however, bear the unmistakable stamp 
of personality the personality of the writer. They are 
great literary productions because their authors possessed 
great literary ability. In any lesser hands they would have 
been dull and commonplace; we might value them for the 
facts which they contain, but we should never cherish them 

1 In this connexion Edward Dowden's excellent words must not 
be omitted: " There are two kinds of written lives of men which 
deserve to remain amongst us as enduring and faithful monuments. 
There is the rare and fortunate work of genius; this in its origin is 
related to imagination and creative power as closely as to judgment 
and observation ; we can hardly pronounce whether it be the child 
of Memory, or of her daughters, the Muses, for it is at once a perfect 
work of art and an infallible piece of history. It portrays the man, 
in few lines or many, but in lines each one indispensable and each 
characteristic ; it may seem to tell little, yet in fact it tells all ; from 
such a biographer no secrets are withholden, nor does he need many 
diaries, letters, and reminiscences of friends; he knows as much 
about the man he undertakes to speak of as Shakespeare knew about 
Hamlet, or Titian about his magnificoes that is, everything. Mr. 
Carlyle's Life of Sterling was perhaps the last volume placed on the 
narrow shelf containing the biographies in all languages which 
belong to this class. But there is also what we could ill lose, the 
work of knowledge, and labour, and patience, and zeal, and studious 
discrimination, and enforced impartiality." Studies in Literature 
(first series), p. 159. 


for the genius which they reflect. Works of this high 
quality are few, since there are few who are capable of pro 
ducing them. Present-day methods of biography, more 
over, make less demand upon the sheer literary skill of the 
biographer; to-day a large part in most cases by far the 
larger part of the material used is furnished by the sub 
ject of the narrative; in consequence, the literary skill 
demanded in the production of a Life is less the skill 
of unbroken narrative, and more the skill of artistic 
construction, of selection and rejection, of judgment and 

Boswell it was who firmly established the custom of 
using the letters and all other available documents of the 
subject of biography. With the admission of these docu 
ments came the shifting of the burden of responsibility for 
the literary quality : the biographer was no longer entirely 
dependent upon himself; he could now turn to the materials 
left by the subject to letters, diaries, reminiscences, frag 
ments of autobiography and by subjecting these to a 
rigid selective examination, could from them construct an 
artistic whole. Letters especially have gone far to add to the 
literary quality of most great biographies; in themselves 
one of the oldest forms of literature, they have never failed 
when chosen with taste and judgment to add their own rare 
flavour to life-narrative. Notwithstanding the importance 
of documents, they endanger the very quality which they 
most improve: they make great demands upon the skill of 
the biographer. What might easily have been a work of art 
is frequently allowed to degenerate into a mere hodge 
podge. " The mere collocation of all documents " does not 
result in a finished literary product. It is possible, there 
fore, as frequent failures bear witness, for rich materials in 
the hands of an unskilful biographer to yield poor results. 
To work with materials of great literary value a biographer 


need not necessarily be a facile composer; he does need, 
however, to be a man of most discriminating judgment 
he must be able to recognise literature when he encounters 
it, and must have the power to select and arrange with the 
utmost skill. Lockhart's Scott, Froude's Carlyle, Trevelyan's 
Macaulay, and Allen's Phillips Brooks, to name only a few, 
are examples wherein the literary quality of the documents 
left by the subjects has been accentuated by the skill of 
the biographer. Such typical works as Carlyle's Sterling, 
Eliot's John Gilley (although but a brief sketch), and 
Palmer's Alice Freeman Palmer help us to see, on the other 
hand, the extent to which the literary quality is due almost 
wholly to the biographer. The history of English biography 
shows that there are almost as few great biographers with 
literary judgment and architectonic skill as there are of 
those great because they possess in themselves the power 
to produce literature redolent of their own commanding 

Thus we do not have many names to match with those 
of Roper, Cavendish, Walton, Evelyn, Goldsmith, and 
Johnson. To keep them company we may select from those 
no longer living the names of Boswell, Lockhart, Stanley, 
Lewes, Froude, and Allen; of others there are none worthy 
to move in the same company. A host of writers who have 
tried to perpetuate the memory of some little krown 
person demonstrate the great powers necessary for success 
in such undertakings. Since the publication of the Life of> 
Sterling, George Herbert Palmer's Life of Alice Freeman 
Palmer is almost the only biography entirely worthy of a 
place upon the shelf next to Carlyle's great work. We are 
best able to appreciate the literary quality of Boswell, 
Lockhart, and Froude when we compare them with lesser 
works constructed from materials left by the subjects of 
biography. Hayley and Moore, for example, each working 


with the best of literary materials, help us to appreciate not 
only how easy it is to miss the way, but how great is the 
triumph when the way has been followed to success. 

There is nothing whatever remarkable about the fact 
that there are few biographies in the English language of 
high literary quality. In common with all other forms of 
literature, the highest excellence in this particular form is 
rare. In common, too, with all other forms, even the best 
biography is not all good, but is good only in parts. These 
parts have increased in number as the entire body of 
English literature has widened and deepened. Particularly 
has the literary quality of biography increased as English 
prose style has developed. We have only to examine the 
body of biography produced before Johnson and Goldsmith 
and that produced after them to convince ourselves of this. 
The style of most biographies written before 1740 is 
unattractive; one derives little pleasure from the mere 
act of reading. After Johnson and Goldsmith made their 
contribution, the style yields pleasure. To-day, although 
biographies are written rapidly, and the output militates 
against high literary excellence, few of them are difficult 
to read; the style of the best is uniformly good. 

The literary quality of autobiography quite naturally 
depends entirely upon the writer. The entire production, 
in substance, form, tone, and style, is woven out of the 
inner consciousness of the autobiographer. The charm and 
beauty of this form, therefore, is most evident when a great 
mind freely and unaffectedly unfolds itself. For this reason, 
the great bulk of mere objective autobiography is almost 
wholly lacking in literary excellence. Such excellence per 
vades the great subjective records; we find it in greater or 
less degree in the self -narratives of Gibbon, Hume, Franklin, 
Brydges, De Quincey, Mill, Ruskin, Mrs. Oliphant, Lucy 
Larcom, and many others. We find it less common in the 


purely scientific autobiographies such as those of Herbert 
Spencer, Charles Darwin, and Alfred Russel Wallace. 

It is perhaps true that the increasing tendency of English 
biography towards great length is lessening the literary 
quality. Of course, there is " a glory of the long and a 
glory of the short "; but, other things being equal, it is 
usually more difficult to produce an excellent short work 
than an excellent long one. The short work demands the 
exercise of sound judgment, cultivated taste, relentless 
rejection of all that is not absolutely indispensable. It 
requires that the writer shall assimilate his material; that 
he shall know much and know it well, in order that he may 
tell the little which contains the essence of all. Such a 
work has all the strength and simplicity of a Greek temple : 
everything is in proportion; there is not a superfluous 
feature; there is the beauty of straight-line effects. The 
long biography, on the other hand, although now and then 
wrought with similar skill, usually impresses us by its very 
size. Its effect upon us is not unlike that of a great cathe 
dral. We are overpowered by its vastness, by the multitude 
of its chapels, oratories, naves, and aisles; we carry away 
from it a confused sense of towers and flying buttresses and 
pinnacles and gargoyles and the dim lights of splendidly 
coloured windows. We know that it is magnificent; but 
its very magnificence overwhelms us. A part of its greatness 
is rather the greatness of size than of art. Such, in a way, 
is Lockhart's Life of Scott. It may be that a man of Sir 
Walter's mould requires a long and elaborate biography, 
just as he seems to have required great monuments. His 
power of production was so unlimited; his romances so 
lavishly wrought; his Abbotsford home so spacious and 
magnificent ; his entire life so full and bounding, that only 
a canvas of ample dimensions could contain all the details; 
only a Gothic cathedral could compass the spirit. Even 



admitting all this, it is difficult to see how the inclusion of 
extracts from legal debates, fragments of imperfect or 
discarded poetry, or the full text of letters only a part of 
which are to the point, add to the literary excellence of 
such a work. The danger of great length, of great size, is 
the danger of sacrificing the significant for the insignificant, 
of hiding the truly characteristic beneath a multitude of 
details. The two, three, four volume biography savours too 
much of German prolixity.' English literature is none too 
rich in complete, authoritative biographies of moderate 

It is, to be sure, difficult to compare great works. Walton, 
Johnson, Goldsmith, Boswell, Lockhart, Carlyle, and 
Froude are, each in his own way, excellent biographers: 
each has made a lasting contribution to English literature 
in the department of biography. From the work of such 
artists we may learn something of the qualities which go to 
make biography rank as literature. An examination of 
their works reveals that in essential features all are similar. 
Fundamentally, they are marked by simplicity, straight 
forwardness, unaffectedness. The purpose of the authors, 
in each case, has been to put before us such semblance of a 
man as they have been able to construct from the materials 
of which they were possessed. They have kept steadily 
before themselves the one aim of unfolding a unified narra 
tive, and to this aim all others have been subordinated. 
It is evident that style with them has been a secondary 
consideration; they have attained excellence as a result 
of the spirit in which they have wrought : in keeping before 
themselves a clear and definite purpose, and in working 
out this purpose with straightforward, unaffected precision, 
they have secured the ideal of style a manner of expres 
sion perfectly adapted to the matter in hand. There is no 
indication that any one of these writers has endeavoured 


to display his own personal cleverness. Most of them were 
possessed of a large-hearted humanity; most of them 
understood the frailties of human nature; most of them 
were charitable; all strove to be scrupulously honest. In 
the presence of the deepest human emotions they were 
reserved. Great literature is founded upon strong feeling, 
upon large-hearted humanity: it is marked by simplicity, 
straightforwardness, unaffectedness, clarity, reserve, truth. 
The best of our English biography is marked by these 
qualities; always, in examining masterpieces, we find that 
the superficial differences of method followed by individual 
biographers do not blur the similarity of the underlying 
principles. There is an abiding unity beneath all the 
manifest diversity. 

We may glance briefly at the manner in which three 
English writers have described the deaths of their subjects. 
These extracts may stand as typical of the best work 
achieved by biographers in the description of an event that 
easily lends itself to the display of false sentiment on the 
one hand, or of mere rhetoric on the other. Herein we may 
find simplicity, emotion, reserve. The first is from Fulke 
Greville's Life of Sir Philip Sidney ; it is the best portion 
of the work, and exhibits the manner in which strong 
emotion, breaking the bonds of a fettering prose style, 
clothes itself in fitting and stately language. Lord Brooke 
has been describing the battle before Zutphen; in continu 
ing he tells us how 

"... an unfortunate hand out of those fore-spoken trenches brake 
the bone of Sir Philip's thigh with a musket shot. The horse he 
rode upon, was rather furiouslie cholleric, than bravely proud, and 
so forced him to forsake the field, but not his back, as the noblest 
and fittest biere to carry a martiall commander to his grave. In 
which sad progress, passing along by the rest of the army, where his 
uncle the general was, and being thirsty with excess of bleeding, he 
called for drink, which was presently brought him; but as he was 


putting the bottle to his mouth, he saw a poor souldier carryed along, 
who had eaten his last at the same feast, gastly casting up his eyes 
at the same bottle. Which Sir Philip perceiving, took it from his 
head before he drank, and delivered it to the poor man, with these 
words, ' Thy necessity is yet greater than mine.' And when he had 
pledged this poor souldier, he was presently carried to Arnheim. . . . 
" The last scene of this tragedy was the parting of the two brothers : 
the weaker showing infinite strength in suppressing sorrow, and the 
stronger infinite weakness in expressing it. ... And to stop this 
naturall torrent of affection in both, [Sir Philip] took his leave, in 
theis admonishing words: ' Love my memorie, cherish my friends; 
their faith to me may assure you they are honest. But above all, 
govern your will and affections by the will and Word of your 
Creator; in me, beholding the end of this world, with all her vanities.' 
And with this farewell, desired the company to lead him away. 
Here the noble gentleman ended the too short line of his life, in 
which path, whosoever is not confident that he walked the next way 
to eternall rest, will be found to judge uncharitably." l 

" I found him entirely himself, though in the last extreme of 
feebleness," writes Lockhart in telling of Scott's death. " His eye 
was clear and calm every trace of the wild fire of delirium extin 
guished. ' Lockhart,' he said, ' I may have but a minute to speak 
to you. My dear, be a good man be virtuous be religious be a 
good man. Nothing else will give you comfort when you come to 
lie here.' He paused, and I said, ' Shall I send for Sophia and 
Anne ? ' ' No,' he said, ' don't disturb them. Poor souls ! I know 
they were up all night. God bless you all ! ' With this he sunk 
into a very tranquil sleep, and, indeed, he scarcely afterwards 
gave any sign of consciousness, except for an instant on the arrival 
of his sons. . . . About half-past one p.m. on the 2ist of September, 
Sir Walter breathed his last, in the presence of all his children. It 
was a beautiful day so warm that every window was wide open 
and so perfectly still that the sound of all others most delicious 
to his ear, the gentle ripple of the Tweed over its pebbles, was 
distinctly audible as we knelt around the bed, and his eldest son 
kissed and closed his eyes. No sculptor ever modelled a more majestic 
image of repose." 

This is the way in which Froude writes of Carlyle's passing: 

1 Works of Fulke Greville Lord Brooke, vol. iv. pp. 1 30-40 (The 
Fuller Worthies' Library). 

* Life of Scott, vol. vii. pp. 393-4. 


" When I saw him next his speech was gone. His eyes were as if 
they did not see, or were fixed on something far away. I cannot say 
whether he heard me when I spoke to him, but I said, ' Ours has 
been a long friendship; I will try to do what you wish.' This was 
on the 4th of February, 1881. The morning following he died. He 
had been gone an hour when I reached the house. He lay calm and 
still, an expression of exquisite tenderness subduing his rugged 
features into feminine beauty. I have seen something like it in 
Catholic pictures of dead saints, but never, before or since, on any 
human countenance." l 

This chapter, we should add in closing, attempts no more 
than to hint at the wealth of literature contained in the 
great mass of English biography. It is perhaps more 
difficult to exhibit biography by quotation than any other 
form of composition. Enough has been said if the reader 
feels an awakened and growing desire to go to the sources 
for himself. 

1 Life of Carlyle (In London), vol. ii. p. 469. 




As we come to the close of this historical survey, we find 
the total achievement of English biographers claiming our 
attention. What has been accomplished during so long a 
period? Before turning directly to the answer of this 
question, we need again to bear in mind that biography 
began in the British Islands at a late period in the general 
history of the form ; that for many centuries it was written 
in an alien language; that it was for a still longer period 
regarded as merely a branch of history; and that, until 
comparatively recent times, its free course was hindered 
by the dominating influence of an ethical purpose. It is 
not surprising, therefore, that its development has been 
retarded. We have followed the slow course of that develop 
ment from 690 A.D. to the end of the Latin period; we have 
seen its more hopeful progress during the seventeenth and 
early eighteenth centuries; and have observed how, from 
1744, that progress has been continuous and almost unham 
pered. A summary review will enable us more fully to 
appreciate the achievement wrought during twelve centuries. 
Appearing as it did late in the general history of the 
form, English biography has profited by a study of all that 
had been produced before 690 A.D., as well as of all produced 
since that date. In other words, its foundations are laid in 
the past, and its entire fabric has been wrought according 
to principles brought from far: it has put the whole world 
under contribution. It has not been, however, merely 


imitative; it has given large return to the world for every 
idea that has been received. We may say, then, that 
English biographers have accomplished these important 
results : 

(1) Working on foundations laid in the past, they have 
evolved a clear definition of the form. When John Dryden 
in 1683 defined biography as " the history of particular 
men's lives," he not only introduced a new word into the 
English language, he also introduced a new notion of the 
word defined into the mind of the world. His definition 
helped to bring about the next important result. 

(2) Working upon Dryden's definition, English bio 
graphers have freed the form from the trammels of history 

(3) They have cleared biography of panegyric and 
invective, and hence have freed it from the ethical purpose. 

(4) They have refused to allow it to serve as a hand 
maiden of science, and have thus established its complete 
independence within its own domain; they have made it 
autonomous. " Any assistance that biography renders 
these three great interests ethical, historical, and scientific 
should be accidental; such aid is neither essential nor 
obligatory." l 

(5) Accepting the principles set forth by Plutarch, they 
have fashioned upon them such remarkable biographies 
as Boswell's Life of Johnson, Lockhart's Life of Scott, 
Carlyle's Life of Sterling, and Froude's Life of Carlyle. 

(6) More fully than the biographers of any other nation, 
they have developed the principles of national biography 
and have produced the best body of such biography in 

(7) From the standpoint of importance of subject, 
skilful workmanship, and literary quality, they have 

1 Lee, Principles of Biography, p. 18. 


produced the largest number of great biographies in the 

One leaves a study of biography with the impression that 
man is yet the most absorbingly interesting subject to man. 
The amount of life-narrative written, as well as the demand 
for what is produced, bears witness to the fact that however 
much man may be engrossed in material pursuits, in the 
mere things of the world, he is yet deeply interested in 
his fellows. The manifest interest in the form shows one, 
too, that man is still the idealist. He is eager to read the 
story of those other men who have lived bravely. That 
world-old tendency to succumb to panegyric, that charac 
teristic English habit of striving to make biography serve 
a moral end, bears witness also to the thirsting of mankind 
to rise above itself. Life-narratives get more closely to the 
hearts of men than impersonal histories. " The great charm 
of biography consists in the individuality of the details, 
the familiar tone of the incidents, the bringing us acquainted 
with the persons of men whom we have formerly known 
only by their works or names, the absence of all exaggera 
tion or pretension, and the immediate appeal from theories 
to facts." l Taking all things into consideration, we should 
not, perhaps, deplore what we are inclined to call the 
present-day " excess of biography." In most cases, life- 
narrative is profitable reading. 

One leaves the study, too, with a feeling of the intangi 
bility of this " soul stuff " which goes to the making of 
mind and spirit; one feels a hopelessness of ever really 
getting at the heart of a man. " But what is it to tell the 
facts that he was born, married or lived single, and died ? " 

1 Article on Lady Morgan's Life of Salvator Rosa, in Edinburgh 
Review (July 1824), p. 317. 


asks Egerton Brydges. " What is common to all can convey 
no information. We desire to know an author's feelings, 
his modes of thinking, and his habits; nay, even his 
person, his voice, and his mode of expressing himself; the 
society in which he has lived, and the images and lessons 
which attended upon his cradle." l These are the fleeting, 
intangible, elusive materials which try the soul of a bio 
grapher. Boswell records a dictum of Dr. Johnson, that 
" they only who live with a man can write his life with 
any genuine exactness and discrimination; and few people 
who have lived with a man know what to remark about 
him." 2 Carlyle was of the opinion that " a well-written 
Life is almost as rare as a well-spent one," and that " there 
are certainly many more men whose history deserves to be 
recorded, than persons willing and able to record it." * 
" The impossibility of fathoming a great man's mind " 
or any man's mind, for that matter is impressed upon one 
more forcibly than ever by the reading of many biographies. 
It was no doubt because of the difficulty involved in 
approximating truthful biography, that Wordsworth, 
Tennyson, and many others have given it as their opinion 
that the utterances of a poet may more nearly constitute 
his biography than can anything which is written about 
him. Tennyson, especially, insisted that life was too subtile 
to be confined within the covers of a biographical record; 
it was his own opinion " that Merlin and the Gleam would 
probably be enough of biography for those friends who 
urged him to write about himself." His opinion is still 
more clearly set forth in the following sonnet : 

" Old ghosts whose day was done ere mine began. 
If earth be seen from your conjectured heaven, 
Ye know that History is half-dream aye even 
The man's life in the letters of the man. 

1 A utobiography, vol. i. p. 89. Life of Johnson, Hill, vol. ii. p. 446. 
* Essay on Richter. 


There lies the letter, but it is not he 
As he retires into himself and is : 
Sender and sent-to go to make up this, 
Their offspring of this union. And on me 
Frown not, old ghosts, if I be one of those 
Who make you utter things you did not say, 
And mould you all awry and mar your worth; 
For whatsoever knows us truly, knows 
That none can truly write his single day, 
And none can write it for him upon earth." 1 

There is ample testimony that many are in substantial 
agreement with Tennyson as regards both biography and 
autobiography. We are accustomed to think of the great 
autobiographical value of journals, diaries, etc., yet under 
date of December 14, 1853, Longfellow wrote in his journal: 
" How brief this chronicle is, even of my outward life. 
And of my inner life, not a word." In verses that contain 
more of truth than of poetry Frances Ridley Havergal 
writes thus: 

" AUTOBIOGRAPHY! So you say, 

So do I not believe! 

For no men or women that live to-day, 
Be they as good or as bad as they may. 

Ever would dare to leave 
In faintest pencil or boldest ink 
All they truly and really think, 
What they have said and what they have done, 
What they have lived and what they have felt, 
Under the stars or under the sun. . . . 

Autobiography ? No ! 
It never was written yet, I trow. . . . 

You say 'tis a fact that the books exist, 
Printed and published in Mudie's list, 

Some in two volumes and some in one 
Autobiographies plenty. But look! 

I will tell you what is done 

1 Sonnet written originally as a preface to Becket. Published in 
Preface to A If red Lord Tennyson, a Memoir by his Son. 


By the writers, confidentially ! 
They cut little pieces out of their lives 

And join them together, 
Making them up as a readable book. 

And call it an autobiography, 
Though little enough of the life survives. 

Ah no! We write our lives indeed, 

But in a cipher none can read 

Except the author. He may pore 

The life-accumulating lore 
For evermore. 

And find the records strange and true, 

Bring wisdom old and new. 

But though he break the seal, 

No power has he to give the key, 
No licence to reveal. 

We wait the all -declaring day, 

When love shall know as it is known; 
Till then, the secrets of our lives are ours and God's alone." l 

Not dissimilarly has Walt Whitman written: 

" When I read the book, the biography famous, 

And is this, then, (said I), what the author calls a man's life? 
And so will some one, when I am dead and gone, write my life ? 
(As if any man really knew aught of my life; 
Why, even I myself, I often think, know little or nothing of my 

real life; 

Only a few hints a few diffused, faint clues and indirections, 
I seek, for my own use, to trace out here.) " ' 

In the light of such testimony, the Rev. Thomas David 
son's exclamation seems to carry weight : " And if a man 
has so much ado to understand his own heart, how much 
less valuable will be his diagnosis of his neighbour's." 
The nearest approximation to the truth would seem to 
come from a union of biography and autobiography the 
result of a man's own record of himself carefully supple 
mented by a discriminating analysis and interpretation 

1 Poem, Autobiography, May 1869. 

" When I Read the Book," Leaves of Grass, p. 14. 


written by some other person able and willing to speak 
the truth. " Perhaps," writes Mr. Edwards, " the auto- 
biographer is most usefully employed when he acknow 
ledges to himself that he can, at the best, but supply rough 
material for another man to work upon. . . . Such material, 
how imperfect soever, must always be numbered among 
the best sources of true biography. Whatever the admix 
ture of fallacy, and alike whether the fallacy arise from 
deceit or from self-delusion, an autobiography cannot but 
be, in its measure, a true revelation of the man that com 
posed it. It cannot but show (sometimes in the writer's 
despite) much of the soul within, as well of the garb in 
which that soul was clothed, and of the circumstances in 
the midst of which it acted and strove. The mental measure 
of a biographer would seem to lie in the degree in which he 
is able to read between the lines of such autobiographic 
material." 1 

From no angle, in short, does the task of biography 
seem easy, whether one is writing of self or of another. 
Perhaps no other form of composition is so difficult; no 
other deals with such elusive material. Other forms of 
composition deal with thought and emotion things 
subtile and elusive enough in themselves but biography 
deals with the source of thought and emotion, with man 
himself in his inward and outward manifestations. Who is 
sufficient for such a task ? 

" In biography, as in other walks of intellectual labour, a man 
must set his aim much above his reach, if he would really attain the 
full limit of his real power. The ideal ' biographer ' has to seek a 
more than possible harmony between the beginning of a life and its 
end on earth or he will fail to elicit from the small incidents of 
youthful days, and from the unripe strivings of early manhood, the 
indications of character which they so often contain. To the eye 

1 A Handbook to the Literature of General Biography, p. 18. 


that has gained real insight, a trivial anecdote of childhood may 
very truthfully present 

' The baby figure of the giant mass 
Of things to come, at large.' 

In proportion as the biographer succeeds in putting saliently before 
the eyes of his readers the various sets so to speak of outward 
circumstance and surroundings in which his subject was successively 
placed, and extracts from the evidence of what the man ultimately 
did and was, the loss or gain derived from those external influences, 
he becomes the true narrator of a life. He becomes pre-eminently 
that, if he be able to elicit, as he nears the earthly close of the tale 
he is telling, what it really was that the man he writes about 
gathered out of this life, to carry with him into the next. If the 
biographer be able to do this in some degree, he makes his readers 
to feel that our human life is always a probation, as well as a combat, 
and not merely to acknowledge that deep truth in conventional 
language. No biographer can possibly do this perfectly. The most 
gifted one can but get glimpses into a human heart. He cannot see 
it as it was. To make those glimpses truthful ones is to the real 
biographer both cross and crown. They are at once the crucial 
difficulty and the crowning glory of his task. No writer can fully 
achieve it. He must, perhaps, combine something of the poet with 
not a little of the philosopher in order to do any part of it. But 
unless he can make some approximation to such a result, he has 
mistaken his calling. And the mere attempt to achieve it is a func 
tion which belongs to the biographer distinctively. It is no part of 
the work of the historian of a nation." > 

" There is neither picture, nor image of marble, nor arch 
of triumph, nor pillar, nor sumptuous sepulchre, can 
match the durableness of an eloquent biography, furnished 
with the qualities which it ought to have," wrote wise old 
Jacques Amyot in 1 565.2 For more than twelve centuries 
British biographers, confident of the value of their work, 

1 Edwards, A Handbook to the Literature of General Biography, 
pp. 16-17. 

Cited by Lee in the Principles of Biography from the " Aux 
Lecteurs " of Amyot's translation of Plutarch's Lives: ". . . car il 
n'y a ny statues, ny trophees de marbre, ny arcs de triomphe, ny 
coulonnes, ny sepultures magnifiques, qui puissent combattre la durte 
d'une Histoire eloquente, accomplie de qualitez qu'elle doit avoir." 


have been labouring to furnish it with " the qualities which 
it ought to have." They have not yet succeeded in embody 
ing all these qualities in any one work, nor in combining 
them in just the ideal proportions; but they have approxi 
mated success more closely than have the biographers of 
any other nation. We may look forward to the future with 
confidence, in the assurance that English biography that 
is, all save the mere ephemeral and worthless stuff doomed 
from the beginning to oblivion is to be in every way more 
carefully wrought. It will not be hastily and illogically put 
together. It will be more unified, more coherent, more 
selective, exhibiting more completely the qualities of con 
centration, brevity, and self-effacement; in short, it is 
destined to be, far more than it has been in the past, a 
work of art. 



1 . Catalogus Scriptorum Ecclesiae : John Boston. " I 
know of no writer of literary memoirs in this kingdom 
prior to John Boston, a monk of St. Edmund's Bury, who, 
early in the fifteenth century, wrote a catalogue of the 
principal manuscripts contained in our universities and 
monasteries, with some account of the lives of the authors. 
The title of his book, according to Bale and Pits, was 
Catalogus Scriptorum Ecclesiae; but neither of these 
writers are to be depended upon in point of titles. Boston's 
plan was probably more general. Archbishop Usher 
formerly possessed a copy of this curious manuscript, 
which Dr. Thomas Gale intended to publish. This I 
learn from a manuscript note of Mr. Oldys, in Fuller's 
Worthies. I also learn from the same writer that, in the 
latter end of the reign of King William, there appeared 
an advertisement announcing a speedy publication of 
Boston's book; it was never printed." B. A consider 
able portion of Boston's manuscript was printed in Wilkin's 
preface to Tanner's Biblioibeca Britannico-Hibernica, 1748. 

2. Commentarii de Scriptoribus Brittanniae : John 
Leland. Oxford, 1709. " Generally supposed to have 
taken his facts from Boston ... [of whom] he makes 
not the least mention. . . . His Commentarii . . . con 
tain a number of important facts, which however might 
have been better related in less than half the number of 
pages, and that half might have been still considerably 



abridged by omitting king Bladud, king Lucius, the 
emperor Constantine, and many others who had no better 
title to the rank of authors. . . . After Leland's death 
his MS. fell into the hands of John Bale." B. 

3. Illustrium Majoris Britanniae Scriptorum, hoc est, 
Angliae^ Cambriae, ac Scotiae, Summarium : John Bale, 
Ipswich, 1548. ". . . so implacably inveterate against 
those of the Romish Church, that there is hardly a Billings 
gate phrase in the Latin language which he has not em 
ployed in their abuse. . . . Except what he borrowed 
from Leland's manuscript, there is nothing valuable in 
his book. At the end of the life of each author he pretends 
to give a catalogue of their works, with which he was in 
general so little acquainted, that he frequently multiplies 
one book into five or six, by mistaking the title of a chapter 
for that of a book." B. " The merits of Bale's Catalogue 
are neither so many nor so eminent as is generally 
supposed." Sir Thomas Duffus Hardy, Descriptive 
Catalogue, Preface, p. xxxix. See also John Bale's Index of 
British and Other Writers. Edited by Reginald Lane Poole 
and Mary Bateson. (Anecdota Oxoniensa, Oxford, 1902.) 

" Loe here the man who stir'd Romes comon shore 
Untill it stunk, and stunk him out of dore. 
Twelve years he serv'd the Babilonian witch; 
Drank of her cup and wallowed in her ditch, 
Untill the sunshine of diviner Truth 
Shot saving beames into his hopefull youth: 
And led him thence to serve another Saint 
Whose mirth was teares, whose freedom was restraint; 
Whose progresse was a banishment; whose food 
Was want and famine, and whose drinke was blood: 
His dayes were full of troubles, and his nights 
Were sad exchanges stor'd with f eares and frights : 
His wealth was poverty, his peace was strife, 
His life was death: his death eternall life." 

Quarles' verses on John Bale, in 
Abel Redevivus, pp. 510-11. 


4. Joannis Pitsei Angli, S. Theologiae Doctoris, Liverduni 
in Lotharingia Decani, Relationum Historicarum de Rebus 
Anglicis, Tomus Primus. Paris, 1619. Generally known 
as the de Illustribus Angliae Scriptoribus : John Pits. 
This constitutes one (the fourth) of a series of volumes 
prepared by Pits, and is the only one that has been printed. 
The others contain the lives of the English monarchs, 
bishops, and " apostolic members " of the English Church, 
respectively; the original MSS. are preserved at the 
collegiate church at Verdun. Pits was a Romish priest 
and hence has preserved much information concerning 
Catholic writers. " Not less partial to those of his own 
religion than his predecessor Bale from whom he took 
most of his materials without acknowledgment; but he 
was infinitely more polite. . . . His book . . . abounds 
with mistakes, and his lists of works are exceedingly 
erroneous. He comes down to ... 1614." B. 

5. Heruologia Anglica, hoc est, clarissimorum et doctissi- 
morum aliquot Anglorum qui floruerunt ab anno Cbristi 
M.D. usque adpresentem annum M.D.C.XX. Vivae effigies^ 
Vitae, et elogia. Arnheim, 1620. Henry Holland (1583- 

6. Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Scotorum : Thomas 
Dempster. Bologna, 1627. " This book contains a short 
account of a number of Scotch authors; but Dempster 
was so exceedingly desirous of increasing his catalogue 
that he makes Scotchmen of many writers who were cer 
tainly born in other countries. // crut, says a French 
writer, faire honneur a sa patrie, enfaisant naltre dans son 
sein une foule d'ecrivains etr angers, & il s'en jit tres peu d 
lui-meme. (Nouv. Diet. Historique, article Dempster)." 
B. " Although displaying great industry, the book is 
chiefly remarkable for its extraordinary dishonesty." 
Henry Bradley, Dictionary National Biography, article 
" Dempster." 



7. De Scriptoribus Hiberniae : Sir James Ware. Dublin, 
1639. " His lives are short, and confined to authors born 
or preferred in Ireland. He begins with the introduction 
of Christianity in that kingdom, and ends with the six 
teenth century. Such circumstances as he was able to 
collect he relates impartially and seldom gives any character 
of his authors or their writings." B. 

8. Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Historia Liter aria, a 
Christo Nato usque ad Saeculum XIV . Facili methodo 
digesta. Qua de vita illorum ac rebus gestis, de Secta, Dog- 
matibus, Elogis, Stylo ; de Scriptis genuinis, dubiis, sup- 
posititiis, ineditis, desperditis, fragmentis ; deque variis 
operum Editionibus perspicue agitur. Accedunt Scriptoris 
Gentiles, Christianae Religionis oppugnatores ; et cujusvis 
Saeculi Breviarum : William Cave, 1688; (Pars Alt era), 
1698. The work extends only to the beginning of the 
fourteenth century. Later, Henry Wharton and Robert 
Gery continued it to 1517. More reliable than the works 
of Bale and Pits, yet poor when measured by present-day 

9. Bibliotheca Britannico-Hibernica : Thomas Tanner, 
1748. " It was the elaborate work of forty years' applica 
tion. His lives of authors are taken chiefly from Leland, 
Bale, and Pits; the first of whom he constantly transcribes 
verbatim. We are, however, much obliged to his lord 
ship for adding to the life of each author a much more 
accurate list of works than is to be found in any pre 
ceding biographer." B. " On all questions connected 
with the early literature of our nation, Tanner's Biblio- 
theca, notwithstanding its many omissions, defects, and 
redundancies, is still the highest authority to which the 
inquirer can refer. As a storehouse of historical materials, 
it is invaluable; although the vast information contained 
in it is badly arranged and requires a careful and critical 
revision." Hardy, Descriptive Catalogue, Preface, p. xlii. 




(To the end of the Eighteenth Century) 

1. Abel Redevivus : or the dead yet speaking. The Lives 
and Deaths of the Moderne Divines. Written by severall 
able and learned men (whose names ye shall finde in the 
Epistle to the Reader). And now digested into one Volume, 
for the benefit and satisfaction of all those that desire to be 
acquainted with the Paths of Piety and Virtue. Prov. 10. 7. 
The memory of the just is blessed, but the name of the wicked 
shall rot. 1651. [Thomas Fuller.] "The chief merit 
of this book is its being the first biographical volume 
published in the English language: at least, I know of 
none of an earlier date." B. 

2. The History of the Worthies of England. Endeavoured 
by Thomas Fuller, D.D. 1662. " His accounts of authors 
are generally taken from Bale and Pits; but the doctor's 
natural propensity to be witty was so exceedingly prevalent 
that he constantly seems to wish rather to make his 
readers merry than wise." B. 

3. Theatrum Poetarum, or a compleat collection of the 
Poets, especially the most eminent of all ages, the Ancients 
distinguish^ from the Moderns in their several alphabets. 
With some observations and reflections upon many of them, 
particularly those of our own nation. Together with a prefatory 
discourse of the Poets and Poetry in General. By Edward 
Phillips. 1675. " It is a small volume, containing a 
short account of ancient and modern poets in general, 
among which there are some Englishmen." B. 

4. The Lives of Sundry Eminent Persons in this Later 
Age. In two parts : I. Of Divines. II. Of Nobility and 


Gentry of both Sexes. By Samuel Clark, Sometimes Pastor 
of Sennet Fink, London. 1683. 

5. The Lives of the most Famous English Poets, or the 
Honour of Parnassus ; in a Brief Essay of the Works and 
Writings of above Two Hundred of them, from the Time of 
K. William the Conqueror, to the Reign of His Present 
Majesty King James II. By William Winstanley. 1687. 

6. Athenae Oxonienses. An Exact History of all the 
Writers and Bishops who have had their Education in the 
most antient and Famous University of Oxford, from the 
Fifteenth Tear of King Henry the Seventh, An. Dom. t i$oo, 
to the End of the Tear 1690. Representing the Birth, Fortune, 
Preferment, and Death of all those Authors and Prelates, the 
great Accidents of their Lives, and the Fate and Character 
of their Writings. To which are added, the Fasti, or annals 
of the said University, for the same time. [By Anthony 
Wood, M.A.] 1691. "The work was first begun in the 
Latine tongue, and for some time continued on in the same, 
but upon the desire of a worthy person (now dead) who was 
an encourager thereof, it was thought more useful to 
publish, as you will now find it, in an honest plain English 
dress, without flourishes, or affectation of stile, as best 
becomes a history of truth and matter of fact. It is the 
first of its nature, I believe, that has ever been printed in 
our own, or any other, mother tongue: for tho* several 
authors (particularly Ant. du Ferdier, a Frenchman) have 
written histories or descriptions of illustrious men of their 
respective countries in their own language, eminent as 
well for the sword as pen, yet that of Verdier, and all of 
the like subject are different from this present triple variety, 
written for the most part in the nature of a Bibliotheque ; 
which, I presume, no person, as yet, hath done the like, 
in his native tongue." From Wood's " To the Reader." 
" His manner is cynical, his language antiquated, and his 
civil and religious opinions illiberal." B. 


7. An Account of the English Dramatick Poets : or, Some 
observations and Remarks on the Lives and Writings of all 
those that have Published either Comedies, Tragedies, Tragi- 
Comedies, Pastorals, Masques, Interludes, Farces, or Opera's 
in the English Tongue. By Gerard Langbaine. 1691. 

8. De Re Poetica : or, Remarks upon Poetry. With 
Characters and Censures of the most Considerable Poets, 
whether Ancient or Modern. Extracted out of the best and 
choicest criticks. By Sir Thomas Pope Blount. 1694. A 
compilation of very little biographical value. 

9. The Lives and Characters of the English Dramatick 
Poets. Also an Exact Account of all the Plays that were 
ever yet Printed in the English Tongue ; their Double Titles, 
the Places where Acted, the Dates when Printed, and the 
Persons to whom Dedicated ; with Remarks and Observations 
on most of the said Plays. First begun by Mr. Langbain, 
improved and continued down to this time by a Careful Hand. 
[Charles Gildon (1665-1724)] [1698]. 

10. The Great Historical, Geographical, Genealogical, and 
Poetical Dictionary. . . . Collected . . . more especially out 
of Lewis Morery, D.D., his Eighth Edition Corrected and 
Enlarged by Monsieur Le Clerc . . . to which are added, by 
way of Supplement, intermixed throughout the Alphabet, the 
Lives, most Remarkable Actions, and Writings of several 
Illustrious Families of our English, Scotch, and Irish 
Nobility, and Gentry. . . . Revised, Corrected, and En 
larged to the Tear 1688 ; By Jer. Collier, A.M. 1701. Two 

1 1 . The Poetical Register : or, the Lives and Characters 
of the English Dramatick Poets. With an Account of their 
Writings. [Giles Jacob.] 1719. " The foundation of the 
work is owing to Mr. Langbain, who was the first that 


brought these memoirs into any tolerable form. ... As 
to the accounts of the living authors, most of them came 
from their own hands, excepting such parts as relate to 
the fame of their writings, where I thought myself at 
liberty to give such characters of praise or dispraise as the 
best judges before me had passed upon their performances." 
From the " Preface." " They [the works of Winstanley, 
Langbaine, Gildon, and Jacob] are generally transcripts 
from each other and are all trifling performances. They 
have been since absorbed in Gibber's Lives of the Poets." 

12. Biographia Britannic a : or, the Lives of the most 
eminent persons who have flourished in Great Britain and 
Ireland, from the earliest ages down to the present times : 
collected from the best authorities, both printed and manu 
script, and digested in the manner of Mr. Bayle's Historical 
and Critical Dictionary. London, 1747. 

" It was with this view that the Biographia Britannic a 
was undertaken; it was in order to collect into one body, 
without any restriction of time or place, profession or 
condition, the memoirs of such of our countrymen as have 
been eminent, and by their performances of any kind 
deserve to be remembered. We judged that this would 
be a most useful service to the publick, a kind of general 
monument erected to the most deserving of all ages, an 
expression of gratitude due to their services, and the most 
probable means of exciting, in succeeding times, a spirit 
of emulation which might prompt men to an imitation 
of their virtues. This was the first and great motive to 
the attempting such a collection, towards which, indeed, 
we saw that there were considerable materials ready pre 
pared, though no sign of any such buildings being ever 
traced, or that there had ever been a thought, either as 
to the expediency or possibility of erecting such a struc 
ture: a British Temple of Honour, sacred to the piety, 
learning, valour, publick-spirit, loyalty, and every other 


glorious virtue of our ancestors, and ready also for the 
reception of the worthies of our own time, and the heroes 
of posterity." Preface, p. viii. 

" It was compiled with great labour, and full of copious 
and exact details; but commonly dull, without force of 
character, and without adequate discrimination. The 
plan, which is that of Bayle, is not altogether the best. 
The notes make a perpetual impediment to reading the 
narrative consecutively, and render it more fit to be con 
sulted as a dictionary than as a work of amusement. The 
form is like Bayle's, but not the spirit. Scarce any article 
rises above mere compilation." Egerton Brydges, Auto 
biography, vol. i. p. 99. 

13. The Lives of the Poets of Great Britain and Ireland 
to the 'Time of Dean Swift. Compiled from ample materials 
scattered in a variety of books, and especially from the MS. 
notes of the late ingenious Mr. Coxeter and others, collected 
for this design, by Mr. [Tbeopbilus] Gibber. In four 
volumes. 1753. [The title-pages of vols. ii., iii., iv., and 
v. read " By Mr. Gibber, and other hands."] 

" It was undertaken on the foundation of a copy of 
Langbain's Lives, which was bought at the sale of Coxeter's 
books. ... It is, to say no worse of it, an insignificant 
performance." B 

14. A Catalogue of the Royal and Noble Authors of Eng 
land, with Lists of their Works. [Horace Walpole.] Printed 
at Strawberry Hill. 1758. 

" The matter it contains is curious and important; the 
language polished, nervous, and pointed; the sentiments 
impartial, liberal, noble." B. 

15. Ike Biographical Dictionary. 1761. Twelve volumes. 
" Whatsoever degree of merit there may be in this 

compilation, it seems due to the booksellers, who appear 
frequently to have used printed copies of former publica- 


tions, without the assistance of an author, or even a 
transcriber." B. 

1 6. Companion to the Playhouse. 1764. Two volumes. 
". . . contains a better and more comprehensive 

account of our dramatic poets and their works, than any 
other book in the English language [to 1/77]." B. 

17. Biographia Liter aria ; or a Bio * graphical History of 
Literature : containing the Lives of English, Scottish, and 
Irish authors from the Dawn of letters in these Kingdoms to 
the present time, chronologically and classically arranged. 
[John Berkenhout, M.D. 1777.] Only vol. i. (from the 
beginning of the fifth to the end of the sixteenth century) 
was issued. 

The work is of no great intrinsic merit. It is chiefly 
of interest because of the remarks made by Dr. Berkenhout 
upon previous biographical compilations. Where these 
have seemed just and to the point, they have been quoted 
in the present volume, and marked " B." This much of 
Berkenhout's labour deserves preservation. 



These lists are adapted, with corrections, by kind per 
mission, from Burr's >( Ihe Autobiography. N.B. To place 
an autobiographer in correct chronology, it is obvious that 
the date given must be that of his death. Yet it often 
happens that a man may cover a certain era in his auto 
biography, and be therein connected with a certain group, 
and then live so many years after writing it that the date 
of his death, taken by itself, would seem to connect him 
with a wholly different epoch. Where two dates are given, 
the second is that of the publication of the autobiography. 



Our first four names are those of writers whose auto 
biographies are brief, mere terse accounts of events domestic 
or political: 


Thomas Tusser .... 1580 
Sir Thomas Bodley . . .1613 
Richard Vennar . . . . 1615 (?) 
Lucy Hutchinson . after 1675 

In twenty-five years more we find a group of detailed 
and subjective self-studies (*), of which Blair and his 
friends are definitely religious. This is a group entirely 
apart from the Quakers. Those marked (f) are of political 
and objective chroniclers merely. Note that out of 
eighteen autobiographies, but eight deserve to be termed 
self-studies. Groups I, 2, and 3 are determined partly 
by date, partly by a certain family likeness in style: 



Margaret of Newcastle . . 1674 

Lord Herbert of Cherbury . . 1648 

Simonds D'Ewes . . . 1650 

Sir Kenelm Digby . . . 1665 

*Robert Blair .... 1666 

fLord Clarendon .... 1674 

*James Fraser of Brae . . . 1699 

John Livingstone . . . 1672 


Walter Pringle .... 1667 

Lady Fanshawe . . . 1680 

William Lilly .... 1681 

tLord Shaft esbury . . .1683 



t James Melvill .... 1617 (1683) 

tSir John Reresby . . . 1689 
*Richard Baxter . . . .1691 

tjohn Bramston .... 1700 

Anne, Lady Halkett . . . 1699 

*John Bunyan .... 1688 



The English Quakers here listed form a continuous 
and compact group, running steadily, without variation 
in manner or method, as late as 1840: 

Seventeenth Century ^ ^ 

John Audland .... 1663 

Samuel Fisher .... 1665 

Richard Farnsworth . . . 1666 

William Caton .... 1665 

John Crook . . . . 1699 

Stephen Crisp .... 1694 

Edward Burroughs . . . 1662 

James Parnel .... 1656 

Isaac Pennington . . . 1679 

Alexander Jaffray . . . 1673 

William Dewsbury . . . 1688 

Charles Marshall. . . . 1698 

Francis Howgill .... 1669 

George Fox .... 1691 
Dr. John Rutty .... 
William Evans .... 

Alice Ellis 

John Wibur .... 


Eighteenth Century ^ g ^ 

Gilbert Latey . . . .1705 
Elizabeth Stirredge . . . 1706 
Alice Hayes .... 1720 
Margaret Fox .... 1702 
Richard Claridge . . .1723 
Richard Da vies .... 1708 
Thomas Ell wood . . .1713 
John Banks .... 1710 
William Edmundson . . . 1712 
Christopher Story . . . 1720 
George Whitehead . . . 1723 
Thomas Story .... 1742 
Samuel Bownas .... 1753 
James Dickinson . . . 1741 
John Woolman .... 1772 
Thomas Chalkley . . .1741 
Elizabeth Ashbridge . . . 1775 

Job Scott 1793 

James Gough .... 1712 
Oliver Sansom . . . .1710 

Nineteenth Century 

Jane Pearson . . . .1816 
Abraham Shackleton . . .1818 
Henry Hull .... 1834 
Thomas Shillitoe . . . 1836 
Daniel Wheeler . . . .1840 


Contemporaneous with List II. (Group 4) is the first 
small group of genuinely scientific self-students (*). Seven 
names are similar in idea and in method, of whom the 
greatest is Franklin. Of the remaining names, we find 


four writing religious confessions wholly independent as 
to creed (f): 

Gilbert Burnet . . . . 

John Flamsteed . . . .1719 

William Taswell . . . .1731 

*Edmund Calamy . . .1732 

+John Dunton . . . -1733 

Roger North . 1734 

t William Whiston . . .1752 

Colley Gibber . . . .1757 

Charlotte Charke . . . 1760 (?) 

George Psalmanazar . . . 1763 

David Hume .... 1776 

Thomas Newton. . . .1782 

Benjamin Franklin . . . 1790 

Mary Robinson .... 1800 

Edward Gibbon .... 1794 

Theobald Wolfe Tone . . .1798 

William Henry Ireland . . 1835 

Joseph Priestley. . . . 1804 

tGeorge Whitefield . . . 1770 

tHenry Alline .... 1784 


Imitators of Franklin and of Gibbon (*) form a defined 
Group from 1809 to 1826. There is also a subsidiary 
Group (f) of literary self-analysers, religious and intro 
spective in tone. Out of twenty -eight names, twenty 
are strongly subjective, approaching the zenith of self- 
study in English. The List covers about fifty years: 


Thomas Holcroft . . . 1809 

Richard Cumberland . . .1811 

William Hutton . . . .1815 

Richard Edgeworth . . . 1817 



* James Lackington . . . 1815 
Samuel Romilly .... 1818 
tWilliam Hayley . . . .1820 

Arthur Young .... 1820 
Catherine Cappe. . . . 1821 
Thomas Bewick . . . .1828 
William Gifford . . . .1826 

Alexander Carlyle . . . 1805 (1860) 

Walter Scott . . . .1832 
tEgerton Brydges . . . 1837 
tjohn Gait 1839 

James Hogg .... 1835 

Robert Burns .... 1796 
tSir Capell Lofft . . . .1824 
tjoseph Blanco White . . . 1841 

Robert Southey . . . .1843 
fBenjamin Robert Haydon . . 1846 
Samuel Roberts . . . .1848 
tWilliam Wordsworth . . . 1850 
fLeigh Hunt .... 1859 

Thomas De Quincey . . . 1859 
Ann Gilbert . ' . . .1866 
tSamuel T. Coleridge . . .1834 
Robert and William Chambers . 1871-83 


A clearly defined contemporary Group: 
Charles Darwin Charles Bray 

Thomas Henry Huxley Harriet Martineau 

Alexander Bain Frances Power Cobbe 

Herbert Spencer Mark Pattison 

John Stuart Mill Edmund Gosse 

Alfred Russel Wallace George John Romanes 

Charles Babbage (Diary) 

Frederic Harrison 




The only cluster approaching a Group is the Literary- 
Artistic formed about the Pre-Raphaelite movement (*). 
Important subjective cases are marked (t): 

Anthony W. Trollop e 

fAnnie Besant 
Walter Besant 
Lord Brougham 
Lord Campbell 
Mrs. Eliza Fletcher 
William Powell Frith 

tElizabeth Grant 

fAugustus J. C. Hare 

*W. Holman Hunt 
Henry Layard 
Col. Meadows Taylor 
Lord Roberts 
F. Locker-Lampson 
William C. Macready 

fCardinal Newman 

*W. M. Rossetti 

fMargaret O. W. Oliphant 

*J. Addington Symonds 

Zerah Colburn 

Lady Morgan 

George Harris 
*George Moore 

Ulysses S. Grant 

Andrew White 
*John Ruskin 

Samuel Smiles 

Lord Wolseley 
fF. W. Newman 

John Freeman Clarke 

Louis Agassiz 

Mrs. Charles Bagot 
tjohn Beattie Crozier 
tC. G. Finney 
fPhilip Gilbert Hamerton 


I. The first attempt to write a biography of Shakespeare 
was made by Thomas Fuller. The following is the text as 
printed in the Worthies of England, 1662: 

" William Shakespeare was born at Stratford-on-Avon in this 
[Warwick] county; in whom three eminent poets may seem in some 
sort to be compounded, i. Martial, in the warlike sound of his 
surname (whence some may conjecture him of a military extraction) 
Hasti-vibrans or Shake-speare. 2. Ovid, the most natural and witty 


of all poets; and hence it was that Queen Elizabeth, coming into a 
grammar school, made this extempory verse: 

' Persius a crab-staff, Bawdy Martial, Ovid a fine wag.' 

3. Plautus, who was an exact comedian, yet never any scholar, as our 
Shakespeare (if alive) would confess himself. Add to all these, that 
though his genius generally was jocular, and inclining him to festi 
vity, yet he could (when so disposed) be solemn and serious, as 
appears by his tragedies; so that Heraclitus himself (I mean if secret 
and unseen) might afford to smile at his comedies, they were so 
merry ; and Democritus scarce forbear to sigh at his tragedies, they 
were so mournful. He was an eminent instance of the truth of the 
rule, Poeta non fit, sed nascitur ; one is not made but born a poet. 
Indeed his learning was very little, so that, as Cornish diamonds are 
not polished by any lapidary, but are pointed and smoothed even as 
they are taken out of the earth, so Nature itself was all the art which 
was used upon him. Many were the wit-combats betwixt him and 
Ben Jonson; which two I beheld like a Spanish great galleon and 
an English man of war: Master Jonson (like the former) was built 
far higher in learning; solid but slow in his performances, Shake 
speare, with the English man of war, lesser in bulk, but lighter in 
sailing, could turn with all tides, tack about, and take advantage 
of all winds, by the quickness of his wit and invention. He died anno 
Domini 16 , and was buried at Stratford upon Avon, the town of 
his nativity." 

2. Next in order is the sketch by John Aubrey. The 
text is that of Clark's Aubrey's " Brief Lives" vol. ii. 
pp. 225-27: 

" Mr. William Shakespear was borne at Stratford upon Avon in 
the county of Warwick. His father was a butcher, and I have been 
told heretofore by some of the neighbours, that when he was a boy 
he exercised his father's trade, but when he kill'd a calfe he would doe 
it in a high style, and make a speech. There was at that time another 
butcher's son in this towne that was held not at all inferior to him 
for a naturall witt, his acquaintance and coetanean, but dyed young. 

" This William being inclined naturally to poetry and acting, came 
to London, I guesse, about 18 ; and was an actor at one of the play 
houses, and did act exceedingly well (now B. Johnson was never a 
good actor, but an excellent instructor). 

" He began early to make essayes at dramatique poetry, which at 
that time was very lowe; and his playes tooke well. 


" He was a handsome, well-shap't man; very good company, and of 
a very readie and pleasant smooth witt. 

"The humour of ... the constable, in Midsomernight' s Dreame, 
he happened to take at Grendon in Bucks I thinke it was Mid- 
somer night that he happened to lye there which is the roade from 
London to Stratford, and there was living that constable about 1642, 
when I first came to Oxon: Mr. Josias Howe is of that parish, and 
knew him. Ben Johnson and he did gather humours of men dayly 
where ever they came. One night as he was at the tavern at Stratford 
super Avon, one Combes, an old rich userer, was to be buryed, he 
makes there this extemporary epitaph: 

Ten in the hundred the Devill allowes, 

But Combes will have twelve, he sweares and vowes: 

If any one askes who lies in this tombe, 

' Hoh! ' quoth the Devill, ' 'Tis my John o Combe.' 

" He was wont to goe to his native couatrey once a yeare. I thinke 
1 have been told that he left 2 or 300 /. per annum there and there 
about to a sister. Vide his epitaph in Dugdale's Warwickshire. 

" I have heard Sir William Davcnant and Mr. Thomas Shad well 
(who is counted the best comoedian we have now) say that he had 
a most prodigious witt, and did admire his naturall parts beyond 
all other dramaticall writers. He was wont to say (B. Johnson's 
Underwoods) that he ' never blotted out a line in his life ' ; sayd 
Ben: Johnson, ' I wish he had blotted-out a thousand.' 

" His comoedies will remaine witt as long as the English tongue is 
understood, for that he handles mores hominum. Now our present 
writers reflect so much upon particular persons and coxcombeities, 
that twenty yeares hence they will not be understood. 

"Though, as Ben: Johnson sayes of him, that he had but little 
Latine and lesse Greek he understood Latine pretty well, for he had 
been in his younger yeares a schoolmaster in the countrey. from 
Mr. ... Beeston." 

3. We may next examine the sketch in Langbaine's 
English Dramatic Poets, 1691. It will be noticed that 
Langbaine's sketch follows closely that by Fuller. The 
date of Shakespeare's death is supplied, together with a 
few additional facts. The portions which constitute a 
criticism and an enumeration of the plays are omitted, as 
not strictly relevant to our purpose: 


" William SHAKESPEAR. One of the most Eminent Poets of his 
Time; he was born at Stratford upon Avon in Warwickshire ; and 
flourished in the Reigns of Queen Elizabeth and King James the First. 
His Natural Genius to Poetry was so excellent, that like those Dia 
monds, which are found in Cornwall, Nature had little, or no occasion 
for the Assistance of Art to polish it. The Truth is, 'tis agreed on by 
most, that his Learning was not extraordinary; and I am apt to 
believe that his skill in the French and Italian tongues, exceeded his 
knowledge in the Roman language. ... I have now no more to do, 
but to close up all, with an Account of his Death; which was on the 
2 jd of April, Anno Dom. 1616. He lyeth Buried in the Great Church 
in Stratford upon Avon with his Wife and Daughter Susanna, the 
Wife of Mr. John Hall. In the North Wall of the Chancel, is a 
Monument fixed which represents his true Effigies, leaning upon a 
cushion. . . ." 

4. The next really important advance was that made 
by Nicholas Rowe in his Some Account of the Life, $3c. y of 
Mr. William Shakespeare, prefixed to the edition of the 
Plays, 1709. This is now easily accessible in D. Nichol 
Smith's Eighteenth Century Essays on Shakespeare. James 
MacLehose and Sons, Glasgow, Publishers. 

5. As an example of the manner in which high-flown 
phraseology was used to conceal lack of information, we 
give the first part of the sketch from Gibber's Lives of the 
Poets, vol. i. pp. 123-24. The remainder simply adapts 
information already known: 

" There have been some ages in which providence seemed pleased 
in a most remarkable manner to display itself, in giving to the world 
the finest genius's to illuminate a people formerly barbarous. After 
a long night of Gothic ignorance, after many ages of priestcraft and 
superstition, learning and genius visited our Island in the days of 
renowned Queen Elizabeth. It was then that liberty began to dawn, 
and the people having shook off the restraints of priestly austerity, 
presumed to think for themselves. At an Aera so remarkable as this, 
so famous in history, it seems no wonder that the nation should be 
blessed with those immortal ornaments of wit and learning, who all 
conspired at once to make it famous. This astonishing genius 
seemed to be commissioned from above to deliver us not only from 
the ignorance under which we laboured as to poetry, but to carry 
poetry almost to its perfection. But to write a panegyric on Shake- 



spear appears as unnecessary as the attempt would be vain; for 
whoever has any taste for what is great, terrible, or tender, may 
meet with the amplest gratification in Shakespear; as may those also 
have a taste for drollery and true humour. His genius was almost 
boundless, and he succeeded alike in every part of writing. . . . 

All men have discovered a curiosity to know the little stories and 
particularities of a great genius; for it often happens that when we 
attend a man to his closet and watch his moments of solitude, we 
shall find such expressions drop from him, or we may observe such 
instances of peculiar conduct, as will let us more into his real charac 
ter than ever we can discover while we converse with him in publick, 
and when perhaps he appears under a kind of mask. There are but 
few things known of this great man; few incidents of his life have 
descended to posterity, and tho' no doubt the fame of his abilities 
made a great noise in the age in which he flourished, yet his station 
was not such as to produce many incidents, as it was subject to but 
few vicissitudes. Mr. Rowe, who well understood and greatly ad 
mired Shakespear, has been at pains to collect what incidents were 
known, or were to be found concerning him, and it is chiefly upon 
Mr. Rowe's authority we build the account now given. ..." 

6. The sketch which appeared in the Biographia 
Britannic a is not generally accessible. It is worth while 
to reprint it as summarising the knowledge in regard to 
Shakespeare to the date of its publication, as well as show 
ing the state of biographical dictionaries at that time. 
The text is taken from the first edition of vol. vi. part i. 
pp. 3627-39; its date, 1763. The text is given in full; 
the footnotes, which are highly interesting, but unnecessary 
for our purpose, are omitted: they refer to all preceding 
published accounts: 

" Shakespeare [William] was descended of a gentleman's family, 
at Stratford upon Avon, in the county of Warwick; but his father 
entering into the wool-trade, dealt considerably that way. He 
married the daughter and one of the heirs of Robert Arden, of 
Wellingcote in the same county. This gentlewoman brought him ten 
children, of whom our poet was the eldest, being born in April 1564. 
At a proper age he was put to the free-school in Stratford, where 
he acquired the rudiments of Grammar-learning. Whether he dis 
covered at this time any extraordinary genius or inclination for the 


Classics, is very uncertain; to make the best of any, he might be 
endued with, in that kind, was not the point in his father's view. He 
had no design to make a scholar of his son, but, on the contrary, took 
him early from school into his own business. He did not continue 
very long in this employ, as a minor, under the immediate guidance 
of his father; he resolved to write man sooner than ordinary, and 
at seventeen years of age married a woman of twenty-five. However, 
in respect to fortune, it was no imprudent match; and thus young 
Shakespeare not only commenced master of a family, but became 
father of two if not three children, before he was out of his minority. 
So settled, he had no other thoughts than of pursuing the wool -trade, 
when happening to fall into acquaintance with some persons, who 
followed the practice of deer-stealing, he was prevailed upon to 
engage with them in robbing Sir Thomas Lucy's park, at Cherlcot 
near Stratford. The injury being repeated more than once, that 
gentleman was provoked to enter a prosecution against the delin 
quents; and Shakespeare in revenge made him the subject of a 
ballad, which tradition says (for unluckily the piece is lost) was 
pointed with so much bitterness, that it became unsafe for the 
author to stay any longer in the country. To escape the hands of the 
Law, he fled to London, where, as might be expected from a man of 
wit and humour in his circumstances, he threw himself among the 
players. Thus, at length, this grand luminary was driven, by a very 
untoward accident, into his genuine and proper sphere of shining in 
the universe. His first admission into the play-house was suitable to 
his appearance; a stranger, unacquainted and uninformed in this 
art, he was glad to be taken into the company in a very mean rank. 
Neither did his performance recommend him to any distinguished 
notice. The part of an actor neither engaged nor deserved his 
attention; it was very far from filling, or being adequate to, the 
prodigious powers of his mind : he turned the advantage which that 
situation afforded him, to a higher and nobler use; and having, by 
practice and observation, acquainted himself with the mechanical 
part of the theatre, his native genius inspired all the other most 
essentially superior qualities of a play-wright. But the whole view 
of this first attempt in stage-poetry being to procure a subsistence, 
he directed his endeavours solely to hit the taste and humour that 
then prevailed amongst the meaner sort of people, of whom the 
audience was generally composed; and therefore his images of life 
were drawn from those of that rank. These had no notion of the 
rules of writing, or the model of the Ancients. Shakespeare also set 
out without the advantage of education, and without the advice or 
assistance of the learned; equally without the patronage of the 

U 2 


better sort, as without any acquaintance among them. But when his 
performances had merited the protection of his Prince, and the 
encouragement of the Court had succeeded to that of the Town, the 
works of his riper years are manifestly raised above those of his 
former. The dates of his plays sufficiently evidence, that his produc 
tions improved, in proportion to the respect he had for his auditors. 
In this way of writing he was an absolute original, and of such a 
peculiar cast, as hath perpetually raised and confounded the emula 
tion of his successors; a compound of such very singular blemishes 
as well as beauties, that these latter have not more mocked the toil 
of every aspiring undertaker to emulate them than the former, as 
flaws intimately united to the diamonds, have baffled every attempt 
of the cunningest artists to take them out, without spoiling the whole. 
Queen Elizabeth, who shewed Shakespeare many marks of her 
favour, was so much pleased with the delightful character of Sir 
John Falstaff, in the two parts of Henry IV. that she commanded 
the author to continue it for one play more, and to shew the Knight 
in love, which he executed inimitably in The Merry Wives of Windsor. 
Among his other patrons, the Earl of Southampton is particularly 
honoured by him, in the dedications of two poems, Venus and 
A donis, and Lucrece ; in the latter especially he expresses himself in 
such terms, as gives countenance to what is related of that patron's 
distinguished generosity to him. In the beginning of King James 
the First's reign (if not sooner) he was one of the principal managers 
of the play-house, and continued in it several years afterwards ; till 
having acquired such a fortune as satisfied his moderate wishes and 
views in life, he quitted the stage, and all other business, and passed 
the remainder of his time in an honourable ease, among the conversa 
tion of his friends, at his native town of Stratford, with the gentlemen 
of the neighbourhood, to whom his pleasurable and good nature 
rendered him very agreeable. He lived in a very handsome house of 
his own purchasing to which he gave the name of New Place; and 
he had the good fortune to save it from flames, in the dreadful 
fire that consumed the greatest part of the town, in 1614. It is very 
probable, he did not much exercise his talent in poetry, after^his 
retirement. In the beginning of the year 1616 he made his Will, 
wherein he testified his respect to his quondam partners in the 
theatre; he appointed his youngest daughter, jointly with her 
husband, his executors, and bequeathed to them the best part of his 
estate, which they came into the possession of not long after. He 
died on the 23d of April following, being the fifty-third year of his 
age, and was interred among his ancestors, on the north side of the 
Chancel, in the great church of Stratford, where there is a handsome 


monument erected for him, inscribed with a simple elegiac distich in 
Latin. In the year 1740, another noble and most beautiful one was 
raised to his memory, at the public expence, in Westminster abbey; 
an ample contribution for this purpose being made, upon exhibiting 
his tragedy of Julius Caesar at the theatre-royal in Drury Lane, 
April the 28th, 1738. Seven years after his death, his plays were 
collected and published in 1623, in folio, by two of his principal 
friends in the company of comedians, Heninge and Condale; who 
likewise corrected a second edition in folio, in 1632. Though both 
these editions were extremely faulty, yet no other was attempted 
till 1714, when a third edition was published in 8vo by Mr. 
Nicholas Rowe, but with few if any corrections; only he prefixed 
some account of our author's life and writings, the materials of the 
first of which were communicated to him by Mr. Betterton, the 
celebrated Comedian, who made a journey to Stratford, purposely 
to learn something further concerning a man, to whom both he and 
all the world were so much indebted. But the plays being in the same 
mangled condition as at first, Mr. Pope was prevailed upon to under 
take the task of clearing away the rubbish, and reducing them into a 
better order; and accordingly he printed a new edition of them in 
1721, in 4to. Yet neither did this give satisfaction, and the perform 
ance only discovered the editor to be a better poet than he was a 
critic; at least of Shakespeare's genius. Hereupon Mr. Theobald, 
after many years spent in the same task, published a piece called 
Shakespeare restored, in 1726, in 8vo, which was followed by 
another new edition of his plays in 1733, by the same author, 
who therein carried the design of his first piece much farther. 
In 1744, Sir Thomas Hanmer, Bart., published at Oxford a 
pompous edition, with emendations, in six volumes, 4to. To these 
Mr. Warburton, now Lord Bishop of Gloucester, added still another 
new edition, with a great number of corrections, in 1747. And Mr. 
Theobald published his edition a second time, with several altera 
tions, in 1757. There has appeared very lately this year, 1760, an 
historical play, intituled, The Raigne of Edward the Third, 6-c., 
which is ascribed to Shakespeare upon these three concurring circum 
stances, the date, the stile, and the plan, which is taken, as several 
of Shakespeare's are, from Holingshead, and a book of novels, called 
The Palace of Pleasure. Thus new monuments are continually rising 
to honour Shakespeare's genius in the learned world; and we must 
not conclude, without adding another testimony of the veneration 
paid to his manes by the publick in general: which is, that a mul 
berry-tree, planted upon his estate by the hands of this revered bard, 
was cut down not many years ago, and the wood being converted 


into several domestic uses, these were all eagerly bought at a high 
price, and each single one treasured up by its purchaser as a precious 
memorial of Shakespeare's memory." 

7. With the preceding, the reader will find interest in 
comparing the latest and best attempt, that of Sir Sidney 
Lee in his A Life of William Shakespeare, 1898; new and 
revised edition, 1915. In the Appendix to his work, Mr. 
Lee gives a list of all available sources which throw light 
on the life of Shakespeare. 

The nineteenth century was rich in biographical dic 
tionaries. The culmination of such works was, of course, 
the Dictionary of National Biography. Maitland, in the 
Life and Letters of Leslie Stephen, p. 365, cites the follow 
ing estimate of the D. N. B., from Ch. Petit-Dutaillis' 
Revue de Synthese historique (1904), p. 360: " Ni notre 
Biographie universelle, ni notre Biographie generale ni les 
articles fort inegaux de notre Grande Encyclopedic ne 
peuvent tre compares a ce monument d' erudition generale- 
ment tres sure." 

For a complete list (to the date of its publication) of 
all biographical compilations in the English language, 
consult The Dictionary of Biographical Reference . . . 
together with a Classed Index of the Biographical Literature 
of Europe and America. By Lawrence B. Phillips. London, 
1871. See also A Handbook to the Literature of General 
Biography. By Edward Edwards and Charles Hole. 1885. 

No complete bibliography of English biography has ever 
been made. It is a question whether such a bibliography 
would be practicable, containing, as it would, hundreds of 
well-nigh worthless narratives. For a brief bibliography 
of selected biography consult Thomas Nelson and Sons' 
Standard Books. 



A eta Sanctorum, 248 

Adam, Abbot of Eynsham, Mag- 
na Vita St. Hugonis, 22-25, 2 7 

Adamnan, xii, 241, 265; Life of 
St. Columba, xix, 3-5, 236, 266 

Addison, Joseph, on Grub Street 
biographers, 83-84, 85; his 
style, 92; on contemporary 
biography, 118 

Aelf ric, 1 1 ; Lives of Saints, 30 

Aitken, George A., Life of Steele, 
no, 186 

Alan of Tewkesbury, Life of 
Becket, 22 

Alfieri, 259, 260 

Allen, A. V. G., Life of Brooks, 
179-80, 235, 262, 271 

Amyot, Jacques, and Plutarch, 
243. 285 

Andersen, Hans, 261 

Anderson, Dr. Robert,Lt/ieo//oA- 
son, concerning Boswell, 121-23 

Appleton's Cyclopedia of Ameri 
can Biography, 195 

Armagh, Book of, 5, 6 

Asser of St. David's, Life of King 
Alfred, 2, 11-14, 15-16; 113 

" Astronomer," The, Life of 
Ludwig, 1 6 

Athanaeus, 245 

Athanasius, Life of St. Anthony, 

Aubrey, John, 39, 117; as a bio 
grapher, 59-61; his Brief 
Lives, 59-60, 81; letters to 
Anthony Wood, 60, 81, 124; 
and coffee-houses, 59, 81, 82; 
and James Boswell, 61, 124 

Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, 254, 
258; Confessions, 141, 254-56 

Autobiography, first use of word, 
130-31; first English, 132-33; 
delayed publication of early 
documents, 1 39-40 ; culmina 

tion of in eighteenth century, 
156; culmination in Herbert 
Spencer, 204; influence on 
biography, 130, 156, 157 ff.; 
different from biography, xvi- 
xvii, 200 ; early manifestations 
of, 251 ff. ; objective, 252; 
subjective, 256 ff. ; limitations 
of, 282-84; lists of in English, 

Ayre, William, Life of Pope, 87; 
quoted, 87-88 

Bacon, Francis, laments scarcity 
of lives in Advancement of 
Learning, 67-68 ; Life of King 
Henry VII., 68; 77, 157 

Bailey, Nathan, English Die- 
tionary, definitions of bio 
graphy, 103 

Baker, David Erskine, Com 
panion to the Playhouse, 57, 296 

Bale, John, 47, 48, 49, 52, 267, 
288, 289, 291 ; Quarles' verses 
on, 288; his Dedication of 
Leyland's Laboryouse Journey, 
quoted, 50; his Illustrium 
Majoris Britanniae Scriptorum 
Summarium, 247, 288; his 
Index of British Writers, 288 

Bauer, Karoline, 261 

Baxter, Richard, Reliquiae Box- 
terianae, 144-46, 149, 298 

Bayle, Pierre, 247 

Becket, Thomas, Archbishop of 
Canterbury, 22 

Bede, The Venerable, n, 17, 20, 
267 ; anonymous life of, 15, 24; 
Ecclesiastical History of Eng 
land, 7, 8, 9, 15, 132, 251; his 
autobiography, 132-33. 251; 
Life of St. Cuthbert (in prose). 
8-1 1, 15, (in Latin verse), 8, 29; 
Lives of the Abbots, 8, 267 


Benson, A. C., Life of E. W. 

Benson, 219 
Beowulf, 131 
Berkenhout, Dr. John, Bio- 

graphia Literaria, 57, 296; 

quoted, 94, 287-96 
Bielschowsky, Dr. Albert, Life 

of Goethe, 187-88 
Bigelow, John, editor Franklin's 

Autobiography, 152 
BiographiaBritannica, 57, 58, 195, 

294-95; quoted, 94-95. 294-95 
Biographical Dictionary (1761), 

57. 295-96 
Biographic Universelle, 247, 


Biography, inception of and 
general line of development, 
xiii-xiv; definition of true type, 
xiv-xv; what constitutes ideal 
type, xv-xvi; pure biography, 
xvi, 221; beginnings of in 
English, 1-2; a work of art, 
193-94; interest in, 280; a 
difficult form of composition, 
280-81; in the future, 286 

Birch, Tom, 251 

Biryukov, Life of Tolstoi, 250 

Bistrici, Vespasiano da, 250 

Blakman, John, Collectarium . . . 
Henrici VI., 26-27 

Bliss, Dr. Philip, 54 

Blount, Sir Thomas P., De Re 
Poetica, 293 

Bodley, Sir Thomas, his auto 
biography, 137, 138, 297 

Bokenham, Osbern, verse lives of 
female saints, 3 1 

Borrow, George, Lavengro and 
The Romany Rye, 208 

Boston, John, 46, 47, 49; Cata- 
logus Scriptorum Ecclesiae, 247, 

^ Bos well, James, xii, 49, 61, 79, 
80, 132, 165, 170, 173, 196, 198, 
220, 233, 244, 271, 274; not 
a prodigy in biography, 112; 
his diligence and perseverance, 
113-14; his method, 114-18; 
and his critics, 118-28; points 
out ideal of biography, 129; 

and use of documents in bio 
graphy, 270; Life of Johnson, 
77, 106, 112-29; relation to 
Plutarch's work, 118; a work 
of culmination, 125; deficien 
cies of, 126-27; style of, 127; 
influence of, 157-60, 161, 162, 
179; 160,161,166-67,169,171, 
178, (222, 224, 230, 250, 262, 
268, 279; Journal of Tour to 
Hebrides, 112, 115, 117 

Bradley, Henry, article " Thomas 
Dempster," D. N. B., quoted, 
135. 289 

Bradshaw, Henry, Life of St. 
Werburge of Chester, 31 

Brooke, Rev. Stopford A., His 
tory of Early English Litera 
ture, quoted, 9 

Broughton, Lord, 205 ; Recol 
lections of a Long Life, 206 

Brown, P. Hume, on Froude's 
Carlyle, 178 

Browne, Sir Thomas, 259 

Browning, Robert, House, 131 

Brydges, Sir Egerton, 57, 158-59, 
203, 209, 210, 211, 295; Ima 
ginative Biography, 194 

Bunyan, John, Grace Abounding, 
138, 139, 156, 298 

Burdy, Rev. Samuel, Life of 
Skelton, 213, 265 

Burnet, Gilbert, Life of Bedell, 
89; quoted, 96-97; 107, 117 

Burr, Anna Robeson, 258, 259; 
The A utobiography, 1 40-4 1 , 
151-52. 155, 201, 204-5, 253, 
255, 256, 260, 261, 262, 296; 
Religious Confessions and Con- 
fessants, 201, 255 

Burton, Robert, 259 

Caesar, 254, 258; Commentaries, 

141, 254 
Calamy, Edmund, and Reliquiae 

Baxterianae, 145, 146, 149; his 

autobiography, 149, 257, 300 
Cambden, William, History of 

Queen Elizabeth, 68 
Cambridge History of English 

Literature, quoted, 64-65, 82 


Canning, George, Microcosm, 
quoted, 119-20 

Capgrave, John, Life of St. 
Katharine of Alexandria, 31, 

Cardan, Jerome, 254, 258, 259, 
260; De Vita Propria Liber, 
141. 256, 259 

Carleton, George, Life of Bernard 
Gilpin, xviii 

Carlyle, Thomas, 187, 190; re 
view of Scott, 162-63, l6 5. J 9 2 ; 
Essay on Burns, 179-80; Essay 
on Werner, 164, 182; Frederick 
the Great, 188, 190-91; Crom 
well, 190-92; Life of Sterling, 
xii, 171, 180, 192-93, 222, 226, 
251, 271 ; Essay on Biography, 
250-51 ; Essay on Richter, 281 

Carte, Thomas, Life of James 
Duke of Ormonde, 91 

Cave, William, Scriptorum Eccle- 
siasticorum Historia Literaria, 
47, 290 

Cavendish, George, xviii, xix, 45 ; 
Life of Wolsey, 44, 63-66; 67, 
71, 214, 269 

Cavendish, Margaret, Duchess of 
Newcastle, Life of Duke of 
Newcastle, 95-96; volume of 
London letters, 107; auto 
biographical fragment, 138-39 

Caxton, William, 27 

Cellini, Benvenuto, 256, 260 

Century Dictionary, 77 

Chambers's Encyclopedia, article 
" Biography," quoted, 183, 
193, 224 

Chambers's Encyclopedia of Eng 
lish Literature, quoted, 178 

Chandler, F. W., Literature of 
Roguery, 85, 86, 100 

Characters, xix, xx, 54-56; popu 
larity of, 54; explanation of, 
54-55; as manifestation of 
the biographical spirit, xix, 
55; how they differ from 
biography, 55-56; how related 
to biography and fiction, 56 

Chaucer, 25, 28 

Chaufepie, j. G. de, 247 

Chiabrera, 260 

Christie, R. C., article " Bio 
graphical Dictionaries," 245 

Church, The, and English bio 
graphy, i-8, 21-25, 26-27, 29- 
37, 45, 240-41 

Church, R. W., Saint Anselm, 21 

Churchill, W. S., Lord Randolph 
Churchill, 219 

Churchyard, Thomas, his legend 
of Cardinal Wolsey, 38, 39 

Gibber, Colley, 99, 100, 300 

Cibber, Theophilus, Lives of the 
Poets, 57, 295 

Clark, Rev. Andrew, editor of 
Aubrey's " Brief Lives," 59-60, 
81, 303; Life and Times of 
Anthony Wood, 186 

Clark, Samuel, Lives of Eminent 
Persons, 291-92 

Coleridge, Samuel, Biographia 
Literaria, 109, 203 

Collier, Jeremy, Great Dictionary, 

Collier, J. P., Illustrations of Old 

English Literature, 1 38 
Collingwood, W. G., Life of 

Ruskin, 177 
Compilations, Biographical, in 

Latin, 287-90 
Compilations, Biographical, in 

English, 291-96 
Contemporary Review, 231 
Cook, Edward, Life of Ruskin, 235 
Cooke, William, Life of Johnson, 


Cornhill Magazine, 249 
Craik, Sir Henry, Life of Claren 
don, 217 
Craik's English Prose, quoted, 

7L 73-74 

Crichton - Browne, Sir James, 
New Letters and Memorials of 
Jane Welsh Carlyle, 175 

Cross, J. W., Life of George Eliot. 
xii, 173, 180, 182-83 

Cross, W. L., Development of the 
English Novel, 56, 86, 156 

Curll, Edmund, establishes mod 
ern biography, 83, 84 

Cynewulf, 1 1 


David Copperfield, 228 

Davidson, Rev. Thomas, article, 
" Biography," quoted, 183, 
193, 224-25, 283 

Defoe, Daniel, English novel and 
biography, 85-86; Robinson 
Crusoe, 86, 1 55; Moll Flanders 
and Colonel Jacque, 86 

Dempster, Thomas, 47; his 
autobiography, 1 34-36, 268 ; 
Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis 
Scotorum, 136, 289 

Dictionary National Biography, 
175, 194-95,248,249; culmina 
tion of national biography, 
310; quoted, 26, 39, 90, 135, 
161, 195 

Digby, Sir Kenelm, Private 
Memoirs, 142-44, 156, 297 

Dilworth, W. H., Life of Pope, 87 

Dimock, J. R, Magna Vita 
St. Hugonis, 22-23 

Diogenes Laertius, 238, 239, 242, 
243. 245 

Dobson, Austin, Eighteenth Cen 
tury Studies, quoted, io7> 186 

Dowden, Edwajrd, Studies in 
Literature, quoted, 269 

Dryden, John, xi-xii, 68, 82, 
92, 127; and translation of 
Plutarch's Lives, 77; first 
employs word biography, xi, 
77, 279; on biography, 77-79 

Duntzer, Heinrich, Schiller and 
Goethe, 188 

Eadmer, Life of Anselm, 21 

Earle, John, Microcosmography 
(Characters), 54, 55, 56 

Early English Text Society, and 
lives of saints, 29, 30, 31, 36, 37 

Ebers, George, 261 

Ecgwin (Egwin), Bishop of 
Worcester, reputed first auto- 
biographer, 132 

Eddius Stephanus, Life of Wil 
frid, 6-7, 107, 267 

Edinburgh Review, quoted, 150, 
183, 185, 197-99, 209-10, 280 

Edwards, Rev. Edward, Life of 
Raleigh, xvi, 214; and Rev. 

Charles Hole, Handbook to 

Literature of General Biography, 

197, 216, 310; quoted, 214-16, 

223-24, 244, 284-85 
Einhard, Life of Charles the 

Great, 16 
Eliot, Charles W., John Gilley, 

226, 271 
Eloisa and Abelard, Letters of, 

Elton, Oliver, Survey of English 

Literature, 193 
Encyclopedia Britannica, quoted, 

66, 93, 186-87, 220, 242 
Estienne, Robert and Charles, 

Evelyn, John, 271; Life of 

Margaret Godolphin, 269 

Felix, hermit of Crowland, Life 
of St. Guthlac, 1 1 

Fiction and biography, 36-37, 85- 
86, 99-102, 106, 194, 228-29, 
230; and autobiography, 132, 
155-56, 207-8, 228-29 

Field, Rev. William, Memoirs of 
Samuel Parr, quoted, 128-29 

Fielding, Henry, Joseph Andrews 
and biography, 99-100; Jona 
than Wild as satire on eulo 
gistic biography, 100-102; his 
commendation of Johnson's 
Life of Savage, 105; Tom 
Jones, 1 06 

Fitzgerald, Percy, Life of Bos- 
well, 125, 127, 158; Boswell's 
Autobiography, 132, 173 

Fitz-Stephen, William, Life of 
Becket, 22 

Foote, Memoirs of Samuel, 103 

Forster, John, a professional 
biographer, 183-84; Life of 
Dickens, 180-83; editor Ex 
aminer, 183; editor Lives 
of Eminent British Statesmen, 
184; Sir John Eliot, Gold 
smith, Landor, Swift, 184 

Fox, George, Journal, 147-48, 257 

Franklin, Benjamin, 148, 149, 
156, 202, 208, 257, 262, 272; 
Autobiography, 150-53 



Fraser, Campbell, Biographia 
Philosophica, quoted, 190 

Freytag, no 

Froude, James Anthony, 164, 
182, 223, 271; Life of Carlyle, 
168-79; highest summit of bio 
graphy since Bos well, 168; 
has been misjudged, 168 ff. ; 
dramatic instinct exhibited, 
169-71; chief outcry against, 
I 7 I '73I why he did not re 
port conversation, 173-74; de 
liberate errors in, 174-75; 
Professor Masson's complaint, 
175, and reluctant praise, 177; 
Leslie Stephen's discriminating 
judgment, 176-77; testimony 
to general truth of the Life, 
177-79; hopelessness of set 
ting it aside, 178-79; quoted, 
191, 192-93, 277; My Relations 
with Carlyle, 172-73; 262, 279 

Fuller, John, quoted, 51-52 

Fuller, Thomas, 58, 268; on early 
antiquarians, 48-49; little care 
for dates, 53; Abel Redevivus, 
first biographical compilation 
in English, 50-51, 268, 288, 
291; History of Worthies, 51- 
53; humour of , 52; 268, 291 

Gait, John, 203, 207, 301 
Gaskell, Mrs., Life of Bronte, 180 
Gayley, Charles Mills, Beaumont 

the Dramatist, 227 
Gentleman's Magazine, quoted, 

IO2-I03, 112, 121 

Gery, Robert, 290 

Gesner, Konrad, Bibliotheca Uni- 
versalis, 246 

Gibbon, Edward, proposed Life 
of Raleigh, 91 ; and new era 
in autobiography, 149; Auto 
biography, pieced together, 153; 
emphasis on unity in auto 
biography, 153-54; 156, 202, 
208, 262, 272 

Gildon, Charles, 58; English 
Dramatic Poets, 54, 293 

Giovio, Paolo, 250 

Giusti, 260 

Gladstone, W. E., on biography, 

170. 193. 197 

Godwin, William, Life ofChaucer t 

Goethe, Dichtung und Wahrheit, 

Goldoni, 260 

Goldsmith, Oliver, Life of Vol 
taire. 88, 92; Parnell, 88, 92; 
infuses literary charm into 
biography, 92; Nash, 92, 93; 
Bolingbroke, 92 ; and generality 
of mankind in biography, 105- 
106; as probable biographer 
of Johnson, 126; Vicar of 
Wakefield, 106 

Goodwin, C. W., editor Life of 
St. Guthlac, ii 

Gosse, Edmund, 73; on pane 
gyric in biography, 93-94; 
History of Eighteenth Century 
Literature, 100; on Mason and 
Boswell in Modern English 
Literature, 128; life of his 
father, 221; Father and Son, 
228-29; true conception of 
biography, 241-42 

Greville, Fulke, Lord Brooke, 
Life of Sidney, its laboured 
style, 92-93; mentioned by 
Edward Phillips, 243; excel 
lent description of Sidney's 
death, 275-76 

Guzman, Fenian P6rez de, Gene- 
raciones y Semblanzas, 249 

Gwynn, Rev. John, editor Book 
of Armagh, 6 

Hacket, John, Scrinia Reserata : 

Memorial of John Williams, 

90-91, 97, 107, 117 
Hall, Joseph, Characters, 54 
Hamerton, P. G., 205, 210-11 
Hamilton, N. E. S. A.. Willelmi 

Malmesbiriensis, 20 
Hammond, Eleanor P., Chaucer : 

A Bibliographical Manual, 59 
Hancock, A. E., John Keats, 194 
Hardy, Sir T. D., Descriptive 

Catalogue, 2-3, 5, 20, 24-25, 

288, 290 


Hare, A. J. C., Story of My Life, 

205, 206-7 
Hare, Julius, Life of Sterling, 

Harmsworth Encyclopedia, quoted , 

Harper, J. Rainey, The House of 

Harper, 190 
Harte, Rev. Walter, Life of 

Gustavus Adolphus, 91 
Harvey, T. Edmund, editor Fox's 

Journal, quoted, 147-48 
Hawkins, Sir John, on Johnson's 

Life of Savage, 105; Life of 

Johnson, 112, 113, 114, 121 
Hayley, William, Life of Cowper, 

1 80-8 1 
Hayward, Sir John, Life of 

Edward VI. , 68 
Herbert of Bosham, 113; Life 

of Becket, 22 
Herbert of Cherbury, Lord, Life, 

142, 257, 297 
Heywood, Thomas, design to 

write lives of poets, Hierarchy 

of the Blessed Angels, and An 

A pology for Actors, 58 
Hill, George Birbeck, 117, 125, 

254, 281 
History proper, and biography, 

xvi, i, 14, 18, 21, 65, 67, 68, 73, 

77, 79-80, 91, 145, 146, 149, 

186-87, 190-92, 213-21, 264-65, 

278, 279, 285 

Hogg, Thomas Jefferson, xii 
Holberg, Louis, 261 
Hole, Rev. Charles, see Rev. 

Edward Edwards 
Holinshed, 39, 44, 45 
Holland, Henry, 289; Heruologia 

Anglica, 51 
Home, Dr. George, Olla Podrida, 

quoted, 119 
Huet, 259 
Hume, David, 149, 156, 202, 257, 

259, 262, 272 
Humphrey, Lawrence, Life of 

Bishop Jewell, xviii 
Hunt, Leigh, 203 
Huyshe, Wentworth, Transla 
tion Life of St. Columba, 5 

Jacob, Giles, Poetical Register, 

56-57, 58, 293-94 
Jebb, Mrs., Life of R. C. Jebb, 

Jeffrey, Francis, 150, 197-99, 

Jenkins, Herbert, Life of Borrow, 

John of Salisbury, Life of Becket, 


Johnson, Samuel, xii, 49, 106, 
113, 118 ff., 130, 156, 158, 166, 
173. 196, 198, 220, 233, 234, 
271, 272, 274, 281; Life of 
Savage, 87, 104-5; on Gold 
smith, 92; Idler, quoted, 93, 
1 54-5 Si Rambler, quoted, 115; 
Lives of the Poets, similar to 
Walton's Lives, 75; 102; no- 
1 1 ; number of Lives following 
within seven years of his death, 
1 1 1 - 1 2 ; see also Boswell's Life 
of Johnson 

Johnstone, John, Memoirs of 
Samuel Parr, quoted, 113 

Jonson, Ben, Characters, 54 

Jortin, John, Life of Erasmus, 91 

Juigne-Broissiniere, 246 

Kennet, Dr. White, History of 
England, 68; quoted, 214 

Kingsley, Mrs., Life of Charles 
Kingsley, 176, 180 

Kippis, Andrew, 251 

Knapp, W. I., Life of Borrow, 208 

Knox, Vicesimus, Lucubrations, 
quoted, 120-21 

Kotzebue, 261 

L'Advocat, Abbe, Dictionnaire 

des Grands Hommes, 247 
Lady Morgan, Life of Salvator 

Rosa, 280 

Lament of Deor, The, 131 
Lang, Andrew, Life of Lockhart, 

162, 163, 166-67, 222 
Langbaine, Gerard, 58; English 

Dramatic Poets, 54, 293 
Lavater, 261 
Leadam, I. S., article " John 

Blakman," D. N. B., 26 



Lee, Sir Sidney, Life of Shake 
speare, 131, 310; Principles of 
Biography, 163, 231, 234, 235, 
249, 279, 285; Dictionary of 
National Biography, 195, 249; 
" At a Journey's End," 249 

Leland, John, 47, 49, 50, 58, 89, 
247, 267; Commentarii de 
Scriptoribus Britanniae, 287- 
88, 290 

Leopardi, 260 

Lermontov, 250 

Letters of Lindamira, 107 

Letters Written by Eminent Per 
sons, etc., 39, 59 

Lewes, George Henry, Life of 
Goethe, 187-88, 261-62, 266 

Life of Charles I., anonymous, 68 

Lives of Eminent Antiquaries, 
Leland, Hearne, etc., 89 

Lloyd, Nicholas, 248 

Lockhart, John Gibson, 169, 170, 
171, 173, 274; Life of Scotf, 
106, 160-67, 1 68. 171, 172, 185, 
222, 224, 251, 262, 271, 273, 
276, 279 

London Magazine, no 

Long, George, general biographi 
cal dictionary of D. U. K. 
Society, 248 

Longfellow, Samuel, Life of 
H. W. Longfellow, quoted, 89, 
130, 203, 282 

Lounsbury, Thomas R., 59, 87; 
Studies in Chaucer, 28, 49, 185 

Lydgate, John, St. Margaret, 3 1 ; 
St. Edmund and Fremund, 3 1 ; 
connecting link between lives 
of saints and The Mirror for 
Magistrates, 37 

Lyttleton, George Lord, Life of 
King Henry the Second, 91 

Macaulay, T. B., 57, 178, 180, 


Machiavel, 242 
Macmillan's Magazine, 125 
Macray, William Dunn, Chronicon 

Abbatiae de Evesham, 132 
Mactheni, Muirchu Maccu, Life 

of St. Patrick, 5-6, 15 

Maitland, Frederic, Life of Leslie 
Stephen, 175, 196, 225, 310 

Marchand, Prosper, Dictionnaire 
Historique, 247 

Mason, Rev. William, Life of 
Gray, 77, 107-10; use of letters 
in, xv, 107-8; makes Gray 
his own biographer, 109; ap 
pends " Character " to the 
Life, 109-10; 117, 122, 128, 130 

Masson, David, Carlyle Personally 
and in his Writings, 175, 177; 
Life of Milton, 186, 190; 
DrummondofHawthornden, 186 

Medici, Lorenzino de, 260 

Memoir of Oldys, 91 

Meres, Francis, Palladis Tamia 
(Wit's Commonwealth), 58 

Middleton, Conyers, Life of Cicero, 
91, 107 

Mill, J. R., 262 

Mill on the Floss, 228 

Milne, James, quoted, 226 

Minor, Benjamin Blake, The 
Southern Literary Messenger, 

Minto, William, Life of Defoe, 

Mirror for Magistrates, The, xix- 
xx, 37-38 

Misch, Georg, Geschichte der 
Autobiographic, 201 

Mitchell, Donald Grant, Doctor 
Johns, 229 

Monluc, 254, 256 

Moore, Thomas, Life of Byron, 
1 80; failure with, 181-82 

More, Sir Thomas, Edward VI., 
Richard III., 68 

Moreri, Louis, Grand Dictionnaire, 

Morley, Henry, English Writers, 
132; on Thomas Dempster, 
135; Life of Cardan, 188 

Morley, John, Rousseau, 188; 
English Men of Letters, 196; 
Life of Gladstone, 218, 221, 235 

Morris, Mowbray, on Froude's 
Carlyle, 171 

Morris, William, Kelmscott edi 
tion Cavendish's Wolsey, 66-67 



Murray, John, editor Gibbon's 
Autobiographies, 153 

Murray's New English Dictionary, 
for biography and its com 
pounds, 77 ; for autobiography, 

National biography, Dictionaries 
of, Swedish, Dutch, Austrian, 
Belgian, German, English, 249 

Nennius, History of the Britons, 


Nepos, Cornelius, 238, 242 
New International Encyclopedia, 

quoted, 234-35 
Niebuhr, Berthold G., 187 
Nineteenth Century and After, 249 
North, Roger, Lives of the Norths, 
98-99,126-27,227; and pane 
gyric, 98-99, 126-27; and 
redivival biography, 227 
North, Thomas, and Plutarch, 

68, 243, 244 
Nouvelle Biographie Ginirale, 247 

Oldys, William, on Thomas 
Fuller, 52-53; first editor Bio- 
graphia Britannica, 57; and 
panegyric, 93-95 ; and spirit of 
research in biography, 91 ; 
Life of Raleigh, 91, 222 

Oliphant, Margaret, 205 ; William 
Blackwood, 189; her autobio 
graphy, 202, 206, 263 ; " The 
Ethics of Biography," 231 

Olympiodorus, 238 

Orme, William, 145, 146 

Overbury, Sir Thomas, Char 
acters, 54 

Palmer, George Herbert, Life of 
Alice Freeman Palmer, 235, 
265-66, 271 

Parker, William Belmont, Life 
of Sill, 233 

Parr, Richard, Life of Usher, 89, 
107, 117 

Parr, Samuel, and Hawkins' Life 
of Johnson, 113; his own con 
ception of writing Johnson's 
Life, xii, 128-29 

Paul, Herbert, Life of Froude, 
172, 179, 223 

Paule, Sir George, Life of Arch 
bishop Whitgift, xviii 

Peck, Francis, 251 

Penn, William, 147 

Perrin, Bernadotte, on Plutarch, 

Perry, Rev. George G., St. Hugh 
of Lincoln, 23, 24; on Scrinia 
Reserata, go, 97 

Petit-Dutaillis, Ch., Revue de 
Synth&se historique, 310 

Petrarch, 255, 260 

Phillimore, J. S., Philostratus, 

Phillips, Edward, Theatrum Poet- 
arum, 54, 243, 291; Life of 
Milton, 242-43 

Phillips, Lawrence B., Dictionary 
Biographical Reference, 310 

Philostratus, 238, 239, 245 

Pindar, Peter (Dr. John Wolcot), 
Bozzy and Piozzi, 120 

Piozzi, Mrs., Anecdotes of Dr. 
Johnson, 112, 113, 114, 117, 
123, 124, 126; 120 

Pits, John, 47, 48, 49, 267; De 
Illustribus Britanniae Scrip' 
toribus, 247, 289, 290, 291 

Plummer, Rev. Alfred, The 
Churches in Britain Before 
A.D. 1000, quoted, 2, 36 

Plummer, Rev. C., Baedae Opera 
Historica, quoted, 15 

Plutarch, xL xx, 80, 117, 118, 
237-38, 239-40, 241, 242, 243- 
44, 249, 252, 279; Parallel 
Lives, 16, 68, 71-72, 75, 77, 238 

Poole, R. L., and Mary Bateson, 
editors Bale's Index, 288 

Pope, Alexander, first purely 
literary man to be made sub 
ject of biography, 86-88 

" Portuguese Letters," 107 

Pott, J. A., Greek Love Songs and' 
Epigrams, quoted, 206 

Pushkin, 250 

Quaker group of autobiographers, 
140-41 ; list of, 298-99 



Quarterly Review, quoted, 131, 

170; 245 
Querini, 260 

Raine, James, Historians of York, 
quoted, 7 

Rait, Robert S.. Life of Gough, 

Raleigh, Professor Sir Walter, 
Six Essays on Johnson, quoted 
in regard to Walton's Lives, 74; 
Edmund Curll, 83; Johnson's 
Lives of the Poets, 102; John 
son's Life of Savage, 105; 
Boswell's Life of Johnson, 126; 
writers in Middle Ages, 133; 
The English Novel, 86 

Reeves, Dr. William, edition Life 
of St. Columba, 4, 5, 16 

Richardson, Samuel, Pamela, 99, 
106, 108; his "handy letter- 
writer," 1 08 

Richter, 261 

Robert of Gloucester, and verse 
lives of saints, 30, 31; his 
Metrical Chronicle, 30, 31; 
text of his Life of St. Alban, 

Roberts, William, Life of Hannah 
More, 162, 1 80 

Robertson, James Craigie, Mate 
rials for the History of Thomas 
Becket, 22 

Robinson and Rolfe, Francesco 
Petrarcha, 255 

Romilly, Sir Samuel, 203 

Roper, William, xviii; Life of 
More, 61-63; 66, 67, 71, 117, 
269, 271 

Rousseau, Jean Jacques, Con 
fessions, 257-59 

Rowan, Frederica, translator 
Life of Schleiermacher, 1 88 

Rowe, Nicholas, Life of Shake 
speare, 86, 305. 

Ruffhead, Owen, Life of Pope, 87 

Ruskin, John, 204, 226 

Saint Cuthbert, Life of, anony 
mous prose, 7; anonymous 
verse, 32-33 

Sainte-Beuve, C. A., Port-Royal, 

quoted, 255 
Saintsbury, George, 166; History 

of English Prosody, 30, 31; 

The English Novel, 36, 208; 

History of Nineteenth Century 

Literature, 161-62 
Sand, George, 259 
Scott, Sir Walter, Life of Dry den, 

1 86; see also unde* Lockhart; 


Seeley, John Robert, Life and 
Times of Stein, 188 

Shakespeare, William, King 
Henry VIII., 40, 44, 45, 64; 
the Sonnets as autobiography, 
131; and Plutarch, 244; bio 
graphies of, 302-10; text of 
Fuller's attempt, 302-3; Au 
brey's, 303-4; Langbaine's, 
304-5; Rowe's, 305; Gibber's, 
305-6; account in Biographia 
Britannica, 306-10; Life by 
Sidney Lee, mentioned, 131, 

Shaw, William, Life of Johnson, 

Shelley, xii 

Sheppard, John G., Theophrasti 
Characteres, 55 

Shiels, Robert, 57 

Shotwell, James Thomson, on 
scientific method in history, 

Sichel, Walter, Bolingbroke and 
his Times, 217-18 

Sime, James, Lessing, 188 

Smiles, Samuel, John Murray, 

Smith, Captain Alexander, Lives 
of Highwaymen, etc., 104 

Smith, D. Nichol, Eighteenth 
Century Essays on Shakespeare, 


Smith, Thomas, letter to Thomas 
Hearne, quoted, 39 

Smith, Dr. William, Dictionary 
of Greek and Roman Biography, 
248; and Dr. Wace, Diction 
ary of Christian Biography, 



Southey, Robert, first use of 
word autobiography, 130-31; 
Annual Review, 180-81, 185; 
Life of Nelson, 171, 180 

Spedding, James, Life of Bacon, 
1 86 

Spence, Joseph, and anecdotes, 

Spencer, Herbert, Autobiography, 
210, 225, 259, 262, 273; cul 
mination of scientific self- 
delineation, 259 

Sprat, Thomas, Life of Cowley, 
75-77, 86, 94, 95; and pane 
gyric, 75-76; and use of 
familiar correspondence, xv, 
76-77, 108-9 

Standard Books (Nelson's), for 
bibliography of biography, 310 

Stanley, Arthur Penrhyn, Life 
of Arnold, 167-68, 171, 176 

Stanly, Thomas, 243 

Steele, Sir Richard, The English 
man, review of criminal bio 
graphies, 104 

Stephen, Sir James, on Reliquiae 
Baxterianae, 145 -46 ; Essays 
in Ecclesiastical Biography, on 
Boswell's method of biography, 

Stephen, Leslie, 196, 197, 225,233; 
and Dictionary of National 
Biography, 194-95,249; Studies 
of a Biographer, 169, 175, 176, 
220-21, 249; on Carlyle in 
D. N. B., 175; Hours in a 
Library, 211 

Sterne, Laurence, Tristram 
Shandy, 106; his biography 
deferred, 227 

Stevenson, Rev. Joseph, The 
Church Historians of England, 
quoted, 10-11, 12, 13, 15, 17-18, 

Stevenson, W. H., edition of 

Asser'sAlfredthe Great, quoted, 

12, 13, 14, 16 

Stigand, William, Heine, 188 
Stilling, 261 
Storer, Sir Thomas, Life of 

Wolsey (verse), xx, 38-45 

Stubbs, William, Memorials of 
St. Dunstan, quoted, 14; Wil- 
lelmi Malmesbiriensis Monachi 
de Gestis Regum Anglorum, 20 

Stuckenberg, J. H. W., Life of 
Kant, 1 88, 194 

Suetonius, 239, 242 

Suidas, Lexicon, 245 

Symonds, J. A., Life of Michael- 
angelo Buonarroti, 188-89 

Tacitus, Life of Agricola, 238, 
239, 252 

Taine, H. A., History of English 
Literature, 191-92 

Tanner, Thomas, Bibliotheca 
Britannico-Hibernica, 47, 287, 

Temple, William, "Character" 
of Thomas Gray, no 

Tennyson, Alfred, Maud, 131; 
In Memoriam, 193; Merlin 
and the Gleam, as his auto 
biography, 28 1 ; sonnet as 
preface to Becket, 281-82 

Tennyson, Hallam, Life of Alfred 
Tennyson, 180, 282 

Thegan, Life ofLudwig the Pious, 

Theophrastus, Characters, 54 ; 
edited by John G. Sheppard, 55 

Thurston, Herbert, Life of St. 
Hugh of Lincoln, 23 

Todd, James Henthorn, St. 
Patrick, Apostle of Ireland, 
quoted, 6 

Toland, John, Life of Milton, 

Torrentinus, Hermannus, Eluci- 
darius Carminum, etc., fore 
runner of biographical dic 
tionaries, 245-46, 247 

Traubel, Horace, With Walt 
Whitman in Camden, xii, 177- 
78, 232-33, 233-34 

Trelawny, Edward J., xii 

Trevelyan, G. O.,LifeofMacaulay, 
57, 170, 171, 178, 180, 193, 


Tuckerman, Bayard, History of 
English Prose Fiction, 85 



Tusser, Thomas, 45; autobio 
graphy, 136-37, 297 

Tyers, Thomas, sketch of John 
son's life, 1 1 2 

Valery-Radot, Rene, Life of 

Pasteur, 250 
Valois, Marguerite de, first 

woman autobiographer, 256, 

Vasari, Giorgio, Lives of the 

Artists, 250 
Venable, William Henry, A 

Buckeye Boyhood, 228-29 
Vennar, Richard, autobiography, 

137-38, 256, 297 
Verdier, Anton, Prosopographia 

Universalis, 246 
Vico, 259 
Villani, Filippo, 250 

Walker, Hugh, English Essay 
and Essayists t 5 5 ; Literature 
of the Victorian Era, 162, 164, 
167, 179, 182, 188 

Walpole, Horace, 142; Cata 
logue of Royal and Noble 
Authors, 57, 295 

Walton, Izaak, 69-75; fir st de 
liberate biographer, xvii-xviii, 
69; his Lives, 69-75, 262, 269; 
influence of Plutarch upon, 72 ; 
methods employed, 73 ; use of 
correspondence, etc., 73; his 
optimism, 73; Wordsworth's 
sonnet on the Lives, 74; The 
Compleat Angler, xviii, 72, 75; 
his digressions, 75; 76; 92, 107, 
117, 241, 243, 244, 271, 274 

Wanley, u 

Ware, Sir James, De Scriptoribus 
Hiberniae, 47, 290 

Watkins, John, Universal Bio 
graphical Dictionary, quoted, 

Watts, Isaac, Logic, on writing 
lives, 213 

Wendell, Barrett, English Com 
position, quoted, 191 

Wharton, Henry, 290 

Whibley, Charles, quoted, 64-65 

Whitman, Walt, Leaves of Grass, 
283; see also Horace Traubel 

Widsith, the Far Wanderer, 131 

Wilkins, Dr. David, editor Tan 
ner's Bibliotheca, 47 

William of Malmesbury, 20, 2 1 ; 
Gesta. 20; Life of St. Aldhelm, 
22; St. Wulstan, 22 

Wilson, David, Mr. Froude and 
Carlyle, 174 

Windelband, Geschichte der Philo 
sophic, 255 

Winkworth, Susanna, editor- 
translator Life and Letters of 
Niebuhr, 188 

Winstanley, William, Lives of 
English Poets, 54, 292 

Winter, William, Old Friends, 
quoted, 224 

Wood, Anthony, and John Au 
brey, 59 - 61, 81 - 82, 124; 
Athenae Oxonienses, 54, 59, 
292; Life and Times of, 186; 

Wordsworth, William, 45; son 
net on Walton's Lives, 74; 
Scorn not the Sonnet, 131; 
The Prelude, 203 ; prose auto 
biography, 203; and pane 
gyric, in letter to James Gray, 
229-31; 281 

Wright, Thomas, Biographica 
Britannica Literaria, 20 

Wright, Dr. W. Aldis, editor 
Metrical Chronicle of Robert of 
Gloucester, 30-31 

Xenophon, Memorabilia, xii, 122, 
237, 239, 241 


Dunn, Waldo Hilary 
English biography